Indian Country Today
The Desert X 2021 art exhibition features a number of different artists from around the world whose works are scattered throughout the Coachella Valley in southern California.
The exhibition is produced by The Desert Biennial, a nonprofit group that installs recurring international art exhibitions based on the principles of the Land Art movement that emerged in the 1960s.
Here are details about the artists and their works, with photos if available, provided by Desert X. And read more about the Native artist participating here.
“What Lies Behind the Walls”
Where: Pierson Boulevard (between Foxdale Drive and Miracle Hill Road), Desert Hot Springs+
What: A sculpture that taps the materials specific to the region
Artist: Zahrah Alghamdi, of Al Bahah, Saudi Arabia, explores memory and history through traditional architecture, assembling particles of earth, clay, rocks, weather and water.+
Description: “When Alghamdi … visited Palm Springs, she was struck by the connection between the desert landscapes and architectures. For Desert X, she created a sculpture that echoes and synthesizes the traditionally built forms from her country with the architectural organization she found in the Coachella Valley. The result takes the form of a monolithic wall comprised of stacked forms impregnated with cements, soils, and dyes specific to each region. It expresses a highly individualized language corresponding to feelings, emotions, and memories associated with place and time.” -Desert X
Where: Sunnylands Center & Gardens, 37977 Bob Hope Dr., Rancho Mirage
What: A garden with monolithic sculptures that form a circular grouping of words
Artist: Ghada Amer, of Cairo, Egypt, creates paintings, cast sculptures, ceramics, works on paper, gardens and mixed-media installations.
Description: “Recognizing that women are taught to model behaviors and traits shaped by others, and that art history — the history of painting, in particular — is largely shaped by expressions of masculinity, Amer subverts these frameworks through aesthetics and content…. For Desert X, Amer continues her’ Women’s Qualities’ series, asking men and women in the Coachella Valley to share words that describe the qualities with which they identify and to which they have been ascribed. It is an act of looking both inward and outward, yielding a form of self-portraiture.”-Desert X
Serge Attukwei Clottey
“The Wishing Well”
Where: James O. Jessie Desert, Highland Unity Center, 480 W. Tramview Rd, Palm Springs
What: A sculptural installation of large-scale cubes draped with sheets of woven pieces of yellow plastic+
Artist: Serge Attukwei Clottey explores the sociopolitical, economic, environmental, and cultural legacies of the colonial project in Africa.
Description: “Using yellow plastic jerrycans known as Kufuor gallons, Attukwei Clottey creates sculptures, installations and performances that speak to histories of colonial pillaging and its effects on trade and migration. These gallons function as material and a striking symbol in Attukwei Clottey’s practice: a reminder of the way violent pasts manifest in the everyday … Transforming a public park into a destination, “The Wishing Well” refers to the wells to which many people around the world must trek daily to access water...Sited in the Coachella Valley, whose future is deeply dependent on water, “The Wishing Well” creates a dialogue about our shared tomorrow.” -Desert X
“Finding Home in My Own Flesh”
(photo not available)
Where: 201 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs+
What: A mural of two hands enveloping vines and flowers
Artist: Felipe Baeza, of Guanajuato, Mexico, speaks to the erasure of marginalized people.
Description: “The mural, ‘Finding Home in My Own Flesh,’ acknowledges the Coachella Valley as both a border region and a queered space, and honors immigrants and queer people of color who have been an integral part of the region’s story. While these communities have long populated the area, they’re often omitted from its better-known histories … ‘Finding Home in My Own Flesh’ functions as a memorial to nonconforming bodies and their movement across spaces — both past and present — that nurture and uplift them.” -Desert X
Where: 2901 N. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs
What: A sculpture of the words Indian Land
Artist: Nicholas Galanin, of Sitka, Alaska, examines the complexities of contemporary Indigenous identity, culture and representation from his experience as a Native artist.
Description: “For Nicholas Galanin, a Tlingit and Unangax artist and musician, memory and land are inevitably entwined… ‘Never Forget’ asks settler landowners to participate in the work by transferring land titles and management to local Indigenous communities … Not only does the work transmit a shockwave of historical correction, but also promises to do so globally through social media.” -Desert X
“ParaPivot (sempiternal clouds)”
Where: 71690 Channel Run Rd., Sky Valley, California
What: Sculpture of interlocking frames and blocks of marble
Artist: Alicja Kwade, a native of Poland who lives and works in Berlin, uses her art to question the structures of society, time and reality.
Description: “As you approach and move in and out of its frames, you become aware of the experiential equivalent of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, an effect whereby observer interaction changes the form of the thing being interacted with. The result is an illusion of instability. This wobbling perception of size and relationship lies at the heart of the work, as with every step, the sculpture and its components reform into new combinations. Time and space become distorted as rocks pulled from 200 million years ago levitate into the clear blue sky. Like the experience of desert itself, "ParaPivot," even as it is made up largely of emptiness, is dense with meaning.” -Desert X
(photo not available)
Where: Adjacent to the Palm Desert Chamber of Commerce, 72559 Highway 111, Palm Desert
What: A collaborative project with students and schools from around the world
Artist: Oscar Murillo, of Valle del Cauca, Colombia, works across painting, drawing, sculpture, installation, performance and video.
Description: “Desks in participating classrooms are covered with a blank canvas that students are encouraged to intervene in as they wish. Over time, the canvases become an index of a period in a student’s life. After a number of months, the canvases are collected and digitized for an online archive that forges a complex portrait of young people in various parts of the globe. For this iteration, Murillo adapts “Frequencies” for students learning from home. Hundreds of students from Coachella Valley schools received a canvas and art supplies to participate. The resulting canvases speak to a radically different education experience and to young people's dreams and visions for a world beyond a pandemic.” -Desert X
“The Art of Taming Horses”
Where: Tahquitz Canyon Way, Palm Springs
What: Six sculptures draped with banners placed along the roadway between Sunrise Way and Civic Drive
Artist: Christopher Myers is an artist and writer in New York who works in visual art, theater and literature.
Description: The sculptures “tell the story of two ranchers—one Mexican and one African-American—whose personal adversities and love for raising horses led them to create a welcoming community in the place that eventually would become Palm Springs. While the story is fictional, it speaks to the truths that exist in the slippage between history and mythology … This story of acceptance, although never perfect, echoes among many communities that have found a welcoming home in this place.” -Desert X
Where: Frank Sinatra Drive and Portola Avenue, Palm Desert
What: A maze made from traditional rugs woven from palm fibers
Artist: Eduardo Sarabia lives and works in Guatemala, exploring the complex cultural and economic exchanges between Mexico and the United States.
Description: “’The Passenger’ is an arrow-tip-shaped maze inspired by the trope of the journey that for generations has been closely bound to stories of the desert. From biblical narratives of exodus to the treks of immigrants searching for better tomorrows, the necessity to move from one place to another has shaped a shared experience across cultures. ‘The Passenger’ speaks to the challenges and aspirations that encourage journeys and pays tribute to the people who have embarked upon them …‘The Passenger’ acknowledges the many people who have passed through the Coachella Valley while offering visitors time to contemplate their own journey as they navigate the maze.” -Desert X
“Because You Know Ultimately We Will Band A Militia”
Where: Gene Autry Trail (between Via Escuela and Interstate 10)
What: A work that occupies a series of billboards along Gene Autry Trail
Artist: Xaviera Simmons’ work spans photography, performance, video, sound, sculpture and installations. “It is not that Indigenous or First Nations people or the Black descendants of American chattel slavery have never had the imagination for monuments,” Xaviera Simmon says. “It’s that white America, particularly as represented and enforced by local, state, and federal governments, has consistently attempted and often succeeded to terrorize the impulse of self-defining monumentality out of those groups—groups which my own ancestry rests.”
Description: “’Because You Know Ultimately We Will Band a Militia’ engages American mythmaking through our visual consumption, production, and embodiment via the resistance structures and counter-narratives that have always been crafted as radical responses alongside the continual production of these myth-making narratives.” -Desert X
Where: Adjacent to the Palm Desert Chamber of Commerce, 72559 Highway 111, Palm Desert
What: A small cabin that recreates the existence of early homesteaders
Artist: Kim Stringfellow, of San Mateo, California, is an artist, educator, writer, curator, environmentalist and desert anthropologist. She is a professor at San Diego State University’s School of Art+Design.
Description: “Stringfellow’s book, ‘Jackrabbit Homestead: Tracing the Small Tract Act in the Southern Californian Landscape 1938-2008’ explores how the law made the desert accessible to a new demographic of land owners ... The 122-square-foot cabin created for Desert X trades the stark solitary romanticism of sand and sky for a small patch of sprawl nestled between the Palm Desert Chamber of Commerce and a CVS Pharmacy. Decontextualized in this way, the diminutive and unglamorous 1950s proletariat kit home becomes a beacon for conversations about class, sustainability, capitalism, public land, and the commons.” -Desert X
Where: 333 S. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs
What: An installation of large-scale paintings and light inspired by the Coachella Valley landscape
Artist: Vivian Suter, of Buenos Aires, Argentina, uses paint and organic materials in her studio in Panajachel, Guatemala to create abstract compositions.
Description: “Due to travel restrictions, Suter was unable to conduct a site visit to the desert and instead explored the ways the region exists in pictures. Using colors to create moods, shapes to reference natural formations and landmarks, and exposing the canvases to the elements to generate textures, her paintings speak to the embodied and emotional dimensions of the desert landscape — to the ways deserts provoke personal associations and trigger memories that are not always resolved. Situated inside a modernist building, Suter’s installation reminds us that the desert is not only a place but also a condition that shapes the lives of many peoples around the world.” -Desert X