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Jeffrey Gibson Art Review Cover

In joyful, speculative work, the artist unpicks and repatterns mythologies around the depiction of native cultures.

A gridded metal frame on the wall pops with a colourful series of embedded canvases and woven bead patterns. Some of the canvases in They Play Endlessly (2021) bear dizzying geometric designs in bright purples and pinks, on top of which are set small faces made of beads; several feature simplified depictions of Native Americans, one with a profile of a man wearing a feathered headdress, another seemingly a children’s book illustration of a young boy with long hair, held back by a red headband, looking over a grass field. Next to these in the grid, a few canvases spell out statements in chunky, stylised letters: ‘The myth persists’; ‘You’re gonna miss me when I’m gone’.

Myth, play and refusing to disappear: the kaleidoscopic swirl of They Play Endlessly serves as a concise introduction to the work of American artist Jeffrey Gibson, encapsulating as it does his use of painting, craft and collage as means to unpick and repattern what is understood as contemporary Native American culture. The designation ‘American’ is of course a reductive simplification, a convention that belies its long trail; Gibson’s ancestors are of the Cherokee and Chocktaw tribes indigenous to the continent that only relatively recently came to be denominated as ‘North America’, though Gibson himself was raised, and has lived and worked, internationally, coming to be based in Hudson Valley, New York. Nor is his work rooted in a fixed geographical location, and as such it raises questions not so much of belonging but of affinities and proximities. As with They Play Endlessly, it often has an immediate, vibrant punch, whose playfulness belies the knotted layers of history that shape it, with each work asking how we might continually reshape an understanding of what indigeneity is.