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Research Guides@Tufts

Tufts University Art Galleries: Elizabeth James-Perry: Double Arrows: Exhibition Overview

On view from September 5 – November 12 2023, Boston

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Double Arrows—invoking the dynamic image of a line with arrow points at both ends—is Elizabeth James-Perry’s visually evocative concept of acknowledging our shared space and human interdependencies with the natural world. This exhibition of James-Perry’s work, presented in the Grossman Gallery at SMFA at Tufts, will include textured weavings in subtle colors and unique jewelry incorporating local sustainable plant materials, as well as contributions from an expanded community of artists, including Tanya Crane, Erin Genia, Jonathan James-Perry, and Patricia James-Perry.

The exhibition is coupled with a newly commissioned public-art billboard, installed on the exterior of the SMFA at Tufts Fenway building, featuring James-Perry’s painted imagery celebrating Milkweed plants, which are both important pollinator species supporting butterflies, as well as culturally important to Native people as milkweed stem fibers are used in fine spinning and weaving.

This education guide provides resources about the artists and their practices, as well as on topics and themes that Elizabeth James-Perry closely engages with as an activist and researcher. As James-Perry invites us to think about our interdependencies with the natural world, this research guide brings attention to the role of Indigenous artists both inside and outside dominant institutions like museums and environmental science.

Elizabeth James-Perry

wampum shell necklace and choker, handspun red milkweed plant fiber dyed with madder and bloodroot

Elizabeth James-PerrySeason of Summer, 2023, wampum shell necklace and choker, handspun milkweed plant fiber dyed with madder and bloodroot

Elizabeth James-Perry is an enrolled member of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head -Aquinnah, located by the richly colored clay cliffs of Martha’s Vineyard/Noepe. She is a multi-medium traditional and contemporary artist taught by her mother Patricia James-Perry, and by cousins Dr. Helen Attaquin and Nanepashemut. Much of Elizabeth's work focuses on early Northeastern Woodlands Native culture, including ancient wampum shell carving and reviving natural dye techniques to create a traditional palette for her finger woven sashes, bags and baskets. (bio)

Patricia James-Perry

Patricia James-PerryScrimshaw, 2017

Patricia James-PerryScrimshaw, c. 1970s

Patricia James-Perry’s roots are in Wampanoag ancestral lands in Aquinnah, on Martha’s Vineyard. She was born into a creative family, and was most drawn to the tradition of scrimshanding – the once-common regional art of hand-crafting decorative and functional items from whale ivory, bone and antler. She also practices Gay Head pottery. (bio)

Key Questions/Questions for Self-Guided Exploration:

  • How do ancestral knowledge and histories of land and place inform Elizabeth James-Perry and the other exhibiting artists and their practice? 
  • Elizabeth James-Perry is both an artist and a curator for this exhibition – what opportunities and perspectives does this dual role provide? Why do you think she has chosen to feature multi-generational family work?  
  • Elizabeth James-Perry sources and harvests local natural materials for her work. How does the material guide the process and form for her and the other artists in Double Arrows?
  • Take a look at the newly commissioned billboard on the exterior of the SMFA at Tufts. Elizabeth James-Perry’s imagery celebrates Wampanoag history and coastal identity. How do public artworks contribute to Indigenous peoples’ ongoing invisibility in the public sphere? How can art in public space address institutional racism and challenge colonial mechanisms that persist in governing our societal systems?
  • What is the relationship between environmental science and Indigenous knowledge? What are the stakes of viewing climate change from an Indigenous perspective? 

Tanya Crane

Tanya CranePangea, 2014

Tanya CranePangea, 2014, copper, nu gold, sterling silver, sea grass

Tanya Crane’s artwork dwells within a liminal existence between prejudice and privilege. Reared in a white middle class suburb of Los Angeles, Crane’s experience with blackness was limited to visiting her father in South Central Los Angeles. Her dual existence has deeply informed her practice and has led to four distinct bodies of work, A Gathering of Instance, African and American, Seeing Through, and Polarity, Exposing the Tensity. Currently, Crane is a Professor of the Practice in Metals at the School Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts. (bio)

Erin Genia

Erin GeniaOpen Pit Gold Mine Vessel, 2015Raku-fired clay, gold leaf andpigment

Erin Genia, Open Pit Gold Mine Vessel, 2015, Raku-fired clay, gold leaf and pigment

Erin Genia, an enrolled member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate, is a multidisciplinary artist, educator and community organizer specializing in Native American and Indigenous arts and culture. Genia’s artistic practice merges Dakota cultural imperatives, pure expression, and exploration of materiality with the conceptual. She is fluent in multiple modes of expression: sculpture, fibers, sound, performance, digital media, writing, painting, printmaking, jewelry and ceramics. She is currently a part-time lecturer at the SMFA for ceramics and sculpture. (bio)

Jonathan James-Perry

Johnathan James-PerryStone pendant, hand carved-stone with Eastern designs on hand-braided sinew

Jonathan James-PerryStone Pendant, hand carved-stone with Eastern designs on hand-braided sinew

Traditional singer, dancer, speaker and carver, Jonathan James-Perry is grounded in the traditions of his ocean-going ancestors. His pieces reflect balance within the Natural World, incorporating stories, effigies, and symbology of Wampanoag traditions. His three dimensional artwork ranges in size from large, hand-carved dugout ocean vessels, to stone effigy pipes and high-end copper jewelry. He likes to collaborate with his sister, Elizabeth James-Perry on artwork, research and exhibitions. (Bio)