form & concept presents an exciting new body of work by interdisciplinary artist Nikesha Breeze

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form & concept presents an exciting new body of work by interdisciplinary artist Nikesha Breeze
Nikesha Breeze, 108 Death Masks A Communal Prayer for Peace and Justice, 2018, 108hand-carved ceramic masks, red iron.

SANTA FE, NM.- “As I mature as an artist, and as a human being on this planet, I realize that everything I do is actually just one thing,” says Nikesha Breeze. “In my art, which is my life, I want to touch the world, as I am touched. Wound touching wound.” This transcendent notion informs every aspect of the Taos artist’s sweeping exhibition Four Sites of Return: Ritual | Remembrance | Reparation | Reclamation. Breeze’s multifaceted magnum opus distills decades of their creative output, and crystallizes deep truths of the Black experience through visual art and ritual performance. Its appearance at form & concept initiates an exhibition series that will sweep the state and the nation. For Breeze, Four Sites of Return also represents a mantle passed from their own ancestors in Blackdom, New Mexico, a turn of the century freedom colony with a remarkable American story.

In early 2022, Four Sites of Return will travel to New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. Later that year, portions of the show will appear at the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts in Brooklyn. “If you visit one gallery show in Santa Fe this spring, make it Four Sites of Return,” says Jordan Eddy, Gallery Director and Curator. “Nikesha is entering the national conversation, and she’s doing it from a perspective that is both distinctly regional and quintessentially diasporic. As an intersectional expression of Black, Brown and Indigenous healing and reclamation, it is both of this place and for the nation and the world. It will sing to you.”

In Four Sites of Return, Breeze works fluidly across a wide range of mediums including large-scale figurative painting and drawing, durational and site-specific performance, clay and bronze sculpture and mixed-media installation art. The 5,000-square-foot exhibition features six monumental series, representing elements of the titular “Sites of Return.” Among them is Arc of Return, a large-scale wooden boat adorned with etched copper, which anchors the gallery’s 20-foot-tall atrium space. A series of 108 clay masks, numbered in reference to the roughly 108 million lives lost through colonization, enslavement, forced migration, and racial genocide since the 1400s, encircle the gallery’s entire ground floor. Never-before-seen works from Archival Portraiture, an ongoing painting and drawing series inspired by historic photographs of often anonymous Black Americans, appear throughout the show.

“All of my projects start with deep scholarly research, and often draw on Black imagery and narratives from the past,” says Breeze. “But the ritual space I’m creating through these artworks exists in the spirit of Afrofuturism and the ‘Otherwise.’ Past, present, future—it’s a construct. I want visitors to lock eyes with the people I’m portraying and feel their immediate presence and sacred humanity.” This time-and-space bending approach to storytelling pushed Breeze and Eddy’s curatorial efforts far beyond the confines of the traditional solo exhibition. Small sculptural works by an international consortium of BIPOC artists will commingle with Breeze’s artworks in the concurrent group exhibition Hand Tools of Resilience.

The communal elements of Four Sites of Return—as reflected in Breeze’s direct engagement with visitors and other performers, and the intersectional premise of Hand Tools of Resilience—echo a notable thread of Breeze’s personal history. In 2016, after almost two decades of living in Taos, Breeze discovered that their direct ancestors helped settle Blackdom, New Mexico. Founded in the early 20th century, the boomtown was the state’s first all-Black community, and a testament to the power of Black excellence and innovation. Though Blackdom became a ghost town in 1921, many of its descendants still live in New Mexico—and its original inhabitants roam some of Breeze’s artworks. “It was as if I was recreating all the people of Blackdom,” Breeze told Southwest Contemporary, regarding her early visual art explorations. “It’s a prayer for justice for Indigenous, Black and Brown people. There’s that total feeling of anger and absence [...] and then on the other side, there’s a celebration of resilience.” Today, reflecting on both the monumental and intimate output of the past several years, Breeze says, “I’m creating the space for this moment to emerge which touches humanity.”

Nikesha Breeze investigates the interrelationality and resilience of the Black and Queer body in relationship to power, vulnerability, the sacred and the ancestral. As a Black, Queer, Intersex, and Non-Binary artist and mother, Breeze employs performance art, film, painting, textiles, sculpture and site-specific engagement to create spaces where Black, Brown, Indigenous, and Earth bodies can be seen as undeniably sacred and inviolable. In 2018 Nikesha completed a solo museum show entitled Within This Skin at The Harwood Museum of Art in Taos, NM. Nikesha has been awarded national recognition at the 2018 International ARTPRIZE exhibition, winning the juried 3D Grand Prize award as well as the Contemporary Black Arts Award, for their sculptural installation: 108 Death Masks: A Communal Prayer for Peace and Justice. In 2019 Nikesha was invited to Ghana to work as a visiting artist on the historical Nkyinkyim installation at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, created by international award-winning artist Kwame Akoto-Bamfo.

The open call for Hand Tools of Resilience invited international African Diasporic and Indigenous artists to examine the conscious and unconscious tools that Black and Indigenous people have created to survive, thrive, and build within oppressive and abusive systems. The project asked international artists to imagine a new tool and its Afrofuturistic use and functionality: tools that could extinguish gaslighting or passive racist treatment, that take the shape of covert and overt armor or protective talismans, hand-tools for loosening systems of supremacy and abuse or chisels for shaping new Black and Indigenous realities. Convened by Nikesha Breeze, the jury included Indigenous artist Rose B. Simpson; Ghanaian artist and activist Kwame Akoto-Bamfo; artist Le’Andra LeSeur, and independent curator Isra Rene.

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