Ancient indigenous art brings us closer to the stars

Chris Michno, Pitzer College art galleries exhibitions manager, adjusts the second piece of Beatriz Cortez’s exhibit, “Cosmic Portals,” on display outside the Broad Center at Pitzer College Saturday. The exhibit uses ancient forms of construction to catch the viewer’s eyes. It will run through April 4. / photo by Drake Ingram
Chris Michno, Pitzer College art galleries exhibitions manager, adjusts the second piece of Beatriz Cortez’s exhibit, “Cosmic Portals,” on display outside the Broad Center at Pitzer College Saturday. The exhibit uses ancient forms of construction to catch the viewer’s eyes. It will run through April 4. / photo by Drake Ingram

Megan Mojica
Staff Writer

Indigenous knowledge, ancient forms of abstraction, and humanism are among the ideas explored in “Cosmic Portals,” artist Beatriz Cortez’s two-part art installation showing now in the Nichols Gallery at Pitzer College. 

The exhibit is configured to communicate to the cosmos, the sky and the universe through sculpture and mosaic. 

“The piece inside is inviting us to look at the sky and that the piece outdoors would invite the sky to look at us,” Cortez said. 

The work is inspired by that of ancient people in Mesoamerica, a region that extends from central Mexico south to northern Costa Rica. 

Indoors, the steel sculpture, titled “El Caracol,” is a 13-step spiral staircase that references an ancient Mayan observatory. It metaphorically invites viewers to speak to the universe. 

Outdoors is an installation titled “Cosmic Mirror,” meant to reflect the view of the cosmos as seen from here. 

Chris Michno, exhibition manager for the Pitzer College galleries, said the pieces in the exhibition are meant to be interacted with. 

“The exhibition functions as a material object but it also is a conceptual framework that asks us to think about the world in a different way,” Michno said. 

Exhibition curator Ciara Ennis said the exhibit counters Eurocentric notions of art by bringing in Indigenous voices. 

“Exhibitions like this respond to the Eurocentric art historical canon,” Ennis said. “And (make viewers) think about non-Western indigenous knowledge and what they can bring to the conversation.”

Another theme present in the piece is immigrant labor. 

“That was important to me because it allowed our labor, the labor of a community of immigrants to be ours,” Cortez said. “To say a message that was about something that had to do with our own cultures, our ancestors, our beliefs.”

Cortez said the work is “industrial” but added that it represented ancient forms of construction.

Ennis said the installation of this exhibit was not without hiccups. 

One large rock in the outdoor installation was stolen on Feb. 10, but was returned the next day.

Ennis said she believes a student took it unknowingly as a joke, then returned it once they realized it was a part of an art exhibit.

“We certainly were not interested in any kind of punitive action,” Ennis said. “It was really about getting the work back.” 

Cosmic Portals will be on display through April 12.

The Nichols Gallery is open from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. 

For more information or to schedule an appointment visit the Pitzer College galleries online.

Megan Mojica can be reached at megan.mojica@laverne.edu

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Megan Mojica, a junior broadcast journalism major, is a staff writer for the Campus Times.

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Drake Ingram, a junior criminology major and photography minor, is a staff photographer for the Campus Times.

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