Second Skin First Body

August 28 – September 25, 2021

Chelsea Kaiah & Ry La

The title of the exhibition refers to their first-generation identities as foundations for an exploratory journey into who they choose to be – adding and growing a second skin onto the historical, cultural, and genetic circumstances they have been born into. Kaiah and La use multifaceted ways of creation by flexing between the labor of making a living and the role of an artist.

Working as a full-time bead worker, Kaiah’s practice is part of an ongoing exploration of storytelling. The imagery of a woman embodying a coyote for example investigates a character of chaos and disruption. As she states, “The Ute’s knowledge about our
creation starts with a coyote: In the beginning, there was Sinawav (creator) and coyote. Creator left one day leaving an important job to coyote- a bag of sticks was to be spread equally over the land. Coyote is naturally curious and mischievous and disobeys the creator. Out came many sticks, all different kinds, fighting and having wars because they were so close together, creators’ intention was to spread them out. When creator returned there were only a few sticks in the bag, they were noble and stayed. They
became “the people” Nuuchuu later on the Utes. They were given kava-avich the Rocky Mountains, a favored land full of resources.”

It is very relate-able to be curious and mischievous like coyote. These traits, often perceived as negative ones, have become a character trope and carry over to other cultures’ depictions of the animal. But in Ute mythology, coyote’s curiosity and
mischief has more positive than negative connotations. Coyote’s nature enabled him to play a vital role in our creation. Without these traits, a different reality might exist where people do not make mistakes and where coyotes roam being obedient. Coyote’s
role in the creation story has instead created a world where knowledge is built as a narrative rather than being bestowed or imposed upon us.

Ry La uses industrial materials and an amalgamation of imagery to delve into their own struggles with identity. As a self-taught tattoo artist, La is drawn to the grit and ugliness of disorderly processes and the beauty that evolves from it. For Second Skin First Body they are creating a framework made from galvanized pipe and fixtures with chained rope suspending a tattooed surface. This sculpture exposes a complex multiplicity of forces that perhaps does not want to be untangled but instead desires to transform and exude and exude comfortability in one’s own skin. This drive for understanding via sculpture and drawing grasps for a sense of visual and conceptual balance in a world where there may be none.

About the Artists

Born on the Uncompahgre Ute reservation spanning the border of Utah and Colorado, Chelsea Kaiah (b. 1995) is paternally Ute and Apache, and Irish on her mother’s side. Her father taught her to hunt, camp, and value nature while her aunts and cousins taught her the craft of being a Native woman. These are lessons they also taught her Irish mother to uphold. This foundation created a multi-skilled creator as Chelsea moved off the reservation for better education. She later attended Watkins College of Art and Design in Nashville, Tennessee, and received her Bachelors in Fine Art becoming the first on both sides of her family to be a college graduate. Relocating back to Ute ancestral lands she moved to Denver, Colorado in 2020, a journey that has led her to share her individual experience of being part of the historically excluded. Chelsea uses themes of sovereignty, healing, and power to remind her community and others that, “There is no rising without falling.” Despite the knowledge that has been lost through acts of colonization, genocide, and assimilation, the Native people and culture today thrive in creativity and reclamation. As a mixed-Native, Chelsea believes in the importance of healing those traumas for the next generation. Chelsea works as a full-time beadworker, activist, and artist. 

Ry La was born in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, and currently works out of their private studio in Denver. They developed a strong interest in the arts from an early age and sought classes that would later help strengthen their skills and deepen their love for art. In 2017, Ry studied visual arts at Metropolitan State University for two semesters before dropping out and pursuing self-guided education. Having experimented with a multitude of mediums throughout the subsequent years such as photography, graphic design, music, and clothing, they landed on tattooing which has become the main focus of their time and energy. Their current work explores the intersection of tattooing and the fine arts with an everlasting effort to conjoin the two. 

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