Interview by Angie (Kichi) Collier
Rose Bean Simpson is a multi-media artist from Santa Clara Pueblo. I was immediately drawn to her work because of her diverse styles, including comic art, sculpture, music, and spray paint. After watching Artisode 1.3- KNME (Rose Bean Simpson) I knew right away that I wanted to interview her for this project. I felt very encouraged by her voice, and that she was someone I could identify with. I have a great respect for any woman who is creating art that challenges mass media and objectifications. Rather than numbing one’s soul, Rose Bean Simpson is trying to enliven, strengthen, and build the soul. She is not afraid to be who she is, in her natural, beautiful state, and this not only shows through her voice, but through her artwork as well. I am honored that I was able to interview someone who is actively transforming the negative effects of our media, and someone who is honestly connected to the purity of life. Through my own journey as an artist, I have experienced moments of complete frustration, and even oppression, due to the domination of our media society, so not only was discovering Rose a breath of fresh air, but I was truly inspired.
Kichi Sol: I am very interested in your sculpture “To Fill That Hole.” I was wondering if you could explain the meaning behind the ‘hole’ and also give some information about what you placed inside the hole, and what those objects are representing. I also noticed a similar hole on your sculpture “Protector.” Are these sculptures connected?
Rose Bean Simpson: In the sculpture “To Fill That Hole”, I had placed within the bars, multi-colored small faces. Much of my work is about looking inward, and trying to see or expose what is on the “inside”. (Emotionally, psychologically). I put small viewing spaces in my work for a while because they were all about revealing an inner truth.
In the piece “To Fill That Hole”, the hole represented the sense of emptiness we may feel, or not feeling whole until we “have” something else, other than ourselves. In this specific piece, the “hole” through is the space of pain, abuse, or lack. It has been filled with people, that being relationships with the outside world in order to fulfill something within. No matter how many people I try to fill the hole with, I am still not whole. The piece then must find something else, because her view has been directed and judgmental, which makes her helpless.
It is displaying a state of disempowerment.
In “Protector”, the piece has found something beautiful within, which is manifested in the form of a pinecone. This particular piece was about sexuality, and the judgments behind what the western world considers “sexy” to be. The most incredibly sexy thing I had seen was a pinecone, bursting with creation. In that space I felt that true sexuality and understanding needed to be protected from the negative, abusive, and destructive sexual energy that pervades our media society.
KS: While studying your work, I found a common theme of eye articles, either sculpted or painted, all in which were located on the right eye. Such as Vessel, To Fill That Hole, your Self-Portrait, Protector and Two Spirit. I was interested in the meaning behind the eyepieces, and if there is any significance with the right eye?
RBS: Interesting. I never noticed before which eye was in some way covered.
I suppose what I was trying to say through representing vision (or lack thereof,) is the judgmental filter through which we (have been taught to) perceive the world. We can “see” but sometimes we don’t see what is really there, because we are too busy categorizing, judging, or idealizing aspects of our reality, which keeps us from being truly present and open minded to the possibilities in life.
I was told recently that the right eye could represent your relationship with your father, and your left, your mother. (depending on which hand is your dominant one.) I was told that my relationship with my father hadn’t been very good because I see the world critically through my right eye. When I close my left eye and look through my right, the world is a very scary place. When I close my right and see through my left, I want to giggle. The difference is very clear to me, but I never saw that come through my work.
Thank you for pointing that out. That is very interesting.
KS: I noticed much of your work, especially the pieces with the right eye emphasized, resemble you. Are all of these pieces self-portraits, or in some shape or form a depiction of yourself?
RBS: I find it easiest to be honest if I am portraying myself. It is more difficult to relate to something that I don’t feel from the inside. If I make something other than myself, I feel that I am projecting some sort of ideal onto someone else that may not ring true to him or her. Again, it is important to focus within. It is much easier to lead by example. :)
KS: I noticed many of your pieces seem to be influenced by hip-hop culture, which challenges traditional Native concept. How has hip-hop culture influenced you as an artist? And how do you view the break from traditional Native art?
RBS: I feel that the (Underground) Hip-Hop and Punk Rock cultures have influenced me in that they are an incredible mode of empowerment for youth. Because many of our own traditional Native cultures are on the threat of extinction, they are not very flexible to grow with the new generations, for better or for worse. Therefore, providing an opportunity to feel a part of a culture, and a part of creating what it is. I feel that at this point, because of the amount of Indigenous youth who feel a part of either Hip Hop or Punk Rock cultures, it then becomes traditional. When the Hip-Hop generation is the elders, it will inevitably influence our actions. As long as I am Indigenous and an artist, I am doing traditional Native art, be it on the side of a train, a patch on my jacket, or polishing a pit-fire clay vessel. Art is life.
KS: As a contemporary Native artist, do you receive criticism from elders in the Native community for not staying within the realm of traditional? If so, how do you confront this criticism?
RBS: I had an incredible opportunity to be raised by elders who were the groundbreakers of their times, providing me with the freedom to move forward in ways that they may have struggled to achieve. My grandmother, Rina Swentzell, is a great philosopher and writer. My Great Uncle, Michael Naranjo, is an incredible sculptor, even though he is blind. My Great Aunt, Nora Naranjo-Morse, is an incredibly dynamic contemporary artist and great mentor. My mother, Roxanne Swentzell, fought against many hard stereotypes that I have never had to face, allowing me to ask questions through my work and not think twice.
Because of my own experience within my culture, I have my own boundaries as to what is inappropriate. It is more on a scale of; is this healthy, or is this not.
KS: How has growing up in Santa Fe contributed or restricted you as a Native artist? Do you feel expectations to produce a ‘Santa Fe’ body of work?
RBS: I actually grew up in Santa Clara Pueblo, adjacent to the town of Espanola (the low-rider capital of the world,) north of Santa Fe. The market exists in Santa Fe, and so does my comfort zone. I like to work on evading expectations, which is why I came to RISD to pursue an MFA out of my comfort zone. I plan to return to the Santa Fe area, and, with what I have learned, help disrupt the stereotype that it has been confined in (with many other great artists who are working to do the same.)
KS: Your graduate work seems to be evolving into a completely different style than your earlier post-grad work. How do you find this evolution to reflect your own mind, body, and spiritual growth? Do you see any correlation with your newer pieces and the difference of your location, from Santa Fe to Rhode Island?
RBS: If I have a different audience, I will say different things. I have noticed that I take some indigenous sensitivity for granted, and when I learned that people know very little about my culture-based aesthetic, I am forced to deconstruct my expression further in order to better communicate. I see this opportunity as a blessing. Because of this process, I am learning how to better communicate with myself.
Rose B. Simpson (b. 1983), daughter of clay sculptor Roxanne Swentzell and Patrick Simpson, a wood and metal contemporary artist, Rose has experienced art throughout her life in Santa Fe and on the Santa Clara Pueblo Reservation. Being from both Indigenous and European descent, with art and philosophy primary in both families, she pursues her pure expression of truth through ceramic sculpture, drawing, printmaking, writing, music, and dance.
After studying at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, NM, she received a BFA in Studio Arts in 2007. In her short career she has been able to participate in many shows, including “Relations; Indigenous Dialogue”, an exhibition in 2006 at the Institute of American Indian Arts Museum in Santa Fe, NM, featured in Art In America magazine. She, Nora Naranjo-Morse and Eliza Naranjo Morse were a collaborative art team and the only New Mexico artists chosen to participate in the 2008 SITE Santa Fe Biennial, a global invitational exhibit.
In the summer of 2010 she kicked off the Institute of American Indian Arts “Visions” project with her solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Native Art. She is currently represented by Chiaroscuro Contemporary Art in Santa Fe, NM, and working on her MFA in Ceramics from the Rhode Island School of Design, to graduate in 2011.
All resources and images taken from: