Asya Geisberg Gallery is pleased to present Totem: an exploration of both the aesthetic qualities of totemic
sculpture, as well as the symbolic, narrative, and trans-cultural borrowing of indigenous motifs endemic to much
current art and culture. With a combination of sculpture, painting, and works on paper, the exhibition finds traces
of a notion of totem whether in material or narrative choices, in works by seven artists from diverse origins. Jeffrey
Gibson draws on his Native American heritage, and confounds the conventions of strict identity politics by combining
it with Modernist abstraction, while Matthew Craven jumps across nations and cultures, disrupting strictly “authentic”
narrative implications. Trish Tillman investigates her newly-discovered Native-American heritage for its suggested
personal mythology, and conflates it with her pre-existing interest in the shamanistic rituals of everyday life. Melanie
Daniel and Nancy Azara explore the narrative power and traditional totem’s use of figurative and animal parts, as
symbolic, repetitive, and non-mimetic strategies. Amy Brener and Emily Noelle Lambert create towering, repetitive
and stacked forms in freshly distinctive approaches and materials.
Totems, in their original northwest coastal context, are an expression of ancestral pride, representing the divine origins
of families. In their establishment of a constructed family lineage, they are akin to European heraldic crests. They
also find parallels in carved figurative totems from Papua New Guinea, the anthropomorphic stacked Inushguks of the
Inuktituk, African spirit totems, and the cross-cultural appeal of simple forms of cairns or a Louise Bourgeois or Brancusi
sculpture. The works in Totem, despite eclectic media, each contain a rhythm of elements, symbolic in nature, which
strive to narrate through their material. “Insiders and outsiders alike can only empower the old ways by sharing them and
paradoxically allowing them to mutate . . . I love the legends of Raven, a naughty and playful creator who could change
form in order to satisfy his curiosity,” says Melanie Daniel. Jeffrey Gibson speaks about his decision to shed the notion
of being a member of a minority group. Suddenly all art, European, American and Indian alike, became merely “individual
points on this periphery around me,” he said. “Once I thought of myself as the center, the world opened up.”
Nancy Azara’s carved and painted wood sculpture is updated with silver and gold gilt, red pigment, and made more
ancient with family handprints and spirals that suggest pre-historic petroglyphs and cave paintings. Using Ojibwe
elements and her personal spirituality, Azara carves her personal stories and symbols into the wood, finding in the
totem tradition inspiration to make her own multi-panel works. Amy Brener’s series of iridescent resin works glow with
theatricality. Buried inside are often modern elements such as keyboards,plastic water bottles, and industrial detritus.
The modern monoliths still ask for our devotion, and with their buried symbols resemble petrified wood or a sciencefiction
time capsule for future invaders. Matthew Craven uses both collaged textbook images and obsessively drawn
stylized patterns to suggest the primacy of geometric abstraction and ancient monuments intermingling in our visual
vocabulary. Inspired by decoration of North and South American indigenous origin among others, Craven’s fusions
sometimes erase each particularity, while implying that such patterns, and perhaps histories, across cultures start to
reflect rather than oppose each other.
Hailing originally from British Columbia, Melanie Daniel has a mixed heritage with family members who are First
Nations, and for 18 years has made her home in Israel. Inspired by Kwakiutl myths and totems, her recent paintings
create a mythological mirage of present and past. Greco-roman heads vie for attention with the totemic images of her
childhood, trees and trunks sprout with heads and patterns, bringing a Klimtian landscape of patterned surfaces and
frenetic marks. A member of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, and part Cherokee, Jeffrey Gibson has made
striking use of his Native American heritage by researching and working together with various indigenous artisans. His
works on deer hide find the intersection of Modernists such as Josef Albers with the geometric abstraction found in
such items as painted parfleche designs and decoration found in pow wow culture. His “Constellations” use transparent
veils of color in shapes determined by points along the border of each panel, suggesting the universality in finding our
myths in the stars above.
Emily Noelle Lambert recombines carved, painted wood along with found objects such as buoys and rope, into tall
stacked towers that suggest cairns gone awry. Her sculptures teeter with a wonky verticality, as if defying their actual
assemblage and gravity. Finding a way to bridge painting and sculpture, Lambert has made a world of both stern
structure and childlike humor, with commanding color and an abrasively unrefined touch. Trish Tillman uses furniture,
feathers, coconuts, and manufactured elements to coax a shamanic aspect out of the mundane. The hearth acts as
altar or talisman, materializing the inner temple of self into the natural world, and exposing how our everyday practices
and rituals merge in a fire pit of personal histories and self-mythology.
Nancy Azara came of age during the feminist movement of the 1960s, and was a founder of the New York Feminist
Art Institute (NYFAI) in 1979. She has widely exhibited in galleries, institutions and museums throughout the U.S.
and abroad. Her work has been reviewed in such publications as the New York Times, Art In America, Artforum, and
Sculpture Magazine, and she is the author of the book “Spirit Taking Form: Making a Spiritual Practice of Making
Art” and an essay, “In Pursuit of the Divine” for “The Kensington and Winchester Papers: Painting, Sculpture and
the Spiritual Dimension”. She has been a visiting artist in the United States, Europe, Taiwan, and India. Azara is
the recipient of the Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation Grant, the Susan B. Anthony Award, and a Bogliasco
Foundation Fellowship. Azara’s work is in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Metropolitan
Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the MoMA, Yale Museum, Cincinnati Art Museum, and Milwaukee Art
Museum, among others.
Amy Brener was born in Victoria, BC in and is currently based in New York. She holds an MFA in Sculpture from
Hunter College, attended Skowhegan, and was a resident at Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts. Her work has
been exhibited in Aanant & Zoo, Berlin, Marlborough Chelsea, NY, Dutton, NY, and Greene Exhibitions, Los Angeles,
as well as Toronto and London. Brener’s work has been featured in publications such as Under the Influence,
Whitehot Magazine, Artinfo and Modern Painters.
Matthew Craven received his MFA from the School of Visual Arts, NY, and lives in New York. He has been included
in solo and two-person exhibitions at DCKT Contemporary, Allegra LaViola Gallery, Marvelli Gallery, and Gallery
Hijinks, San Francisco, CA. Group exhibitions include Perry Rubenstein, Adam Baumgold Gallery, and the Hole, as
well as Mini Galerie, Amsterdam, and Delicious Spectacle, Washington, D.C. He has upcoming solo exhibitions at
DCKT, Popp’s Packing, Detroit, and Get This Gallery, Atlanta. Craven is represented by DCKT Contemporary, NY.
Melanie Daniel completed her BFA and MFA at Bezalel Academy in Israel, where she currently lives. Her work
has been widely exhibited in Israel and abroad, with solo exhibitions at the Tel Aviv Museum, Noga Gallery of
Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv, Angelika Knapper Gallery, Stockholm, and group exhibitions at the Israel Museum
Art, Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Petach Tikva Museum of Contemporary Art. In 2012, she
received the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant and a New York Foundation for the Arts Grant, and was a NARS
Foundation Resident. In 2009 Daniel was awarded a solo exhibition for the Tel Aviv Museum of Art’s Rappaport
Prize for a Young Israeli Painter. Her work has been reviewed by CBC/Radio Canada, Frieze Magazine, Newsweek,
the Artists Magazine, and Haaretz, and can be found in the collections of the Harvard Business School, Schwartz
Art Collection, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, and the Brandes Family Art Collection. Daniel is represented by Asya
Geisberg Gallery, where she has had two solo exhibitions.
Jeffrey Gibson received an MA from the Royal College of Art, London, and a BFA from the Art Institute of Chicago.
He has shown widely in group and solo exhibitions in the US and abroad. In 2013 he was the subject of two solo
exhibitions: “Said the Pigeon to the Squirrel” at the National Academy Museum, NY, reviewed in Art in America and
the New York Times, and “Jeffrey Gibson, Love Song” at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. Recent museum
group exhibitions include the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, the Peabody Essex Museum, MA, Museum of
Arts and Design, MFA Boston, Denver Art Museum, and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.
He is a recipient of a Joan Mitchell Foundations Painters and Sculptors Grant, a Creative Capital Foundation Grant,
and was a 2011-2012 TED Foundation Fellow. He has completed residencies at Headlands Center for the Arts, Art
Omi, Aljira, and the Newark Museum. Gibson has a current solo exhibition at Shoshana Wayne, Los Angeles, and is
represented by Marc Straus, NY and Samson, Boston.
Emily Noelle Lambert earned an MFA from Hunter College, NY. Solo exhibitions include Lu Magnus, Regina Rex
Gallery, Priska Juschka Fine Art, and Galerie WIT, the Netherlands. Her work has been included in many group
exhibitions in the US. She was a featured artist at the 2013 Brooklyn Museum Artists Ball, and recently completed
the Edward F. Albee Foundation Residency in Montauk, NY. Other residencies include Lower East Side Print Shop,
Yaddo, Fountainhead Artist Residency, and the Vermont Studio Center. Her work has been reviewed by Art in
America, the New York Times, Art Critical, and L Magazine. Lambert is represented by Lu Magnus, NY.
Trish Tillman lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. She received an MFA from School of Visual Arts, and a BFA from
James Madison University, with studies at University of Wolverhampton, UK. She is a recipient of the Joan Mitchell
Foundation MFA Grant, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities Grants, and a David Rhodes President’s Award.
Most recently she has exhibited work with Slag Gallery, Parlour, Apexart, Present Company, CUE Art Foundation,
NY; and Civilian Art Projects, Washington, DC. Tillman is a Professor of Art and Design at Monmouth University, NJ.