This fall, the Chazen Museum of Art at the University of Wisconsin-Madison presents Companion Species, an insightful and timely exhibition that places works of art from Native and non-Native artists in conversation with each other. Its centerpiece is Marie Watt’s vibrant textile “Companion Species (Speech Bubble)” of 2019, in which community members stitched words such as “mother,” “we” and “ancestor” onto pieces of reclaimed red wool blankets. Through an innovative and frequently playful installation of works from 200 B.C.E. to the present day, the exhibition considers the importance of community, reciprocity and fellowship with animals and nature. It is on view at the Chazen now through Dec. 30, 2021.
“Companion Species asks us to reexamine our connectedness to our neighbors and to our environment through a diverse range of objects, traditions and approaches,” said Chazen Museum Director Amy Gilman. “As we continue to navigate unprecedented social, political and public health challenges, it is projects like this that allow us to find meaning and build resilience, together.”
The exhibition is organized into three thematic sections: Storytelling, Relationships and Community. The first section, Storytelling, relates how visual narratives can convey moral or personal lessons or cultivate collective memory. These artists understand that their audiences may more easily access stories when animals and nature represent abstract concepts.
The second section, Relationships, explores how Native and non-Native artists across time have depicted animals, used animal materials and reinforced the value of relationships between various species, in their artworks. Often in these works the boundaries between species are blurred, with humans looking to animals to model understanding and acceptance.
The artists represented in the third section, Community, expand its definition to include animals, plants and the land. By depicting and embracing collective activities, such as sewing circles, dancing or hunting, these practitioners reinforce that we are all connected, with new communities born when cross-cultural understanding is fostered.
Among the artists included in the exhibition are Norman Akers, Rick Bartow, Louise Bourgeois, Julie Buffalohead, Charles Burchfield, Beth Cavener, Tony Da, Lesley Dill, Jim Dine, Lela Naranjo Gutierrez and Luther Gutierrez, Laurel Roth Hope, Gina Litherland, Merina Lujan, Quincy Tahoma, Rufino Tamayo and Eah Ha Wa.
Companion Species and its national tour is organized by Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, and Art Bridges Foundation, in collaboration with the Museum of Native American History.