California art displays life lessons

Ashley Mcskimming

Traditional tribal lessons invoke a sense of pride in Native American youth, and they also allow young people from all backgrounds to develop self-esteem and find a purpose in life.

These were the words of Alan Salazar at the opening of the “Sing Me Your Story, Dance Me Home: Art and Poetry from Native California” exhibition, a collection of California Native art and poetry on display at the Main Gallery in the art department until Nov. 17.

An educator, visionary and spiritual adviser for Chumash and Tatavial Native Americans, Salazar has worked with youth and adult groups for more than 25 years to share and preserve Native American culture and beliefs.

Salazar is the leading cultural consultant for the Ventura County Indian Educational Consortium, which serves students in more than 140 K-12 schools in the county. He’s also respected among his peers for being able to balance the need for Chumash cultural preservation and modern land use development in California.

“Sing Me Your Story, Dance Me Home: Art and Poetry from Native California” offers numerous works from various Native American artists, Salazar said to visitors at the exhibition. They tell California Natives stories through paintings, sculptures, baskets and jewelry using many different materials, techniques, colors and expressions in their work, Salazar said.

Poems in the exhibition tell stories about poets’ families, heritage, or history. Much of the artwork refers to traditions and ceremonies of a way of life that has existed for generations.

More than 18 Native American artists’ works are displayed in themed sections of the exhibition.

One section, “The Living Song,” shows a worldview based on the origins of Native American knowledge and the belief that life can only continue with the assistance of spiritual beings, observance of ceremonial traditions and protection of ancestral homelands

Another section, “Dance Our Dreams,” honors love, work and preserving California Natives as they recover and renew language, ceremony, and culture.

“Feed Our Memories” honors the tragic, ironic and beautiful moments of life that persist in people’s memories and sustain future generations.

Each section showcased an idea about California Naive culture and meaning that observers of the exhibition can learn to be conscious about in life.

Janet Lazik, an observer at the exhibition who’s been involved with educating youth with hands-on experiences related to Native American culture, said the exhibit was beneficial and inspiring.

“This is an area of interest for me,” Lazik said. “I’ve worked for state parks for many years, starting back in the 1990s. I’m excited to see the exhibit, to see the culture getting exposed.”

Lazik said she wanted to teach people, especially students, about Native American culture first-hand, instead of allowing them to accept what they’ve been taught in classrooms.

“Seeing what the next generation is doing to conserve Native people of California and their culture is an honor,” Lazik said. “It’s wonderful and very touching.”

Exhibition curator Theresa Harlan said the California Native artists and poets featured at the exhibit lead viewers on a journey of cultural knowledge and family history, which honors California Native peoples’ ‘everlasting connection to their ancestral homelands and traditions.

Anita Vartanian, a freelance photographer who studies the native cultures of California, said she was very pleased with the exhibition.

“There is a sense of poetry and spirituality to Native American artwork that other genres of art often lack,” Vartanian said.

“This exhibit is definitely fulfilling and insightful.”

“Sing Me Your Story, Dance Me Home: Art and Poetry from Native California” is free, but donations are accepted. The exhibition is part of a tour organized by the California Exhibition Resources Alliance (CERA).

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