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Latest characters in Virgil Ortiz' 'Revolt' series unveiled at History Colorado Center

By Medicine Man Gallery on

 

Indigenous futurism in the artwork of Virgil Ortiz | Photo courtesy Virgil Ortiz

Indigenous futurism in the artwork of Virgil Ortiz | Photo courtesy Virgil Ortiz

Indigenous Futurism.

Within the Native American art world, Virgil Ortiz (b. 1969; Cochiti Pueblo) virtually invented the genre.

Around the year 2000, Ortiz began merging stories of the 1680 Pueblo Revolt heard since childhood with the science fiction imagery that has fascinated him since the release of “Star Wars,” another story of rebellion, in 1977.

The latest and most dramatic expression of the artist’s vision of Indigenous futurism can be seen now through May of 2024 at History Colorado Center in Denver. “Virgil Ortiz Revolt 1680/2180: Runners + Gliders” uses projection mapping and augmented reality alongside centuries-old Cochiti sculptures and Ancestral Puebloan pottery dating back a millennium to create a dynamic conversation between Ortiz and his artistic ancestors spanning the centuries—and leaving visitors with new perspectives on what could lie ahead.

“’Runners + Gliders’ is the most artistically adventurous thing we have ever done at History Colorado,” Jeremy Morton, Public Engagement Manager at History Colorado, said. "It provides us an opportunity to think about time and history differently, to look back into the past, and forward into the future, in a way few history museums have ever tried."

Indigenous Futurism

Indigenous Futurism is an artform, genre, and practice which confronts colonialism, centers Indigenous knowledge, and envisions ways to confront generational trauma while creating a better future. By embracing themes such as contact, scientific literacy, sustainability, apocalypses and revolutions, Indigenous Futurism gives tribal nations another way to exercise and celebrate their sovereignty while also engaging with their past and traditional ways of life.

Importantly, it also combats persistent biases across North America placing Native people exclusively in the past. Relics without a future.

Indigenous Futurism imagines a future not only with Native people, but centering Native people.

Indigenous futurism in the artwork of Virgil Ortiz | Photo courtesy Virgil Ortiz

Indigenous futurism in the artwork of Virgil Ortiz | Photo courtesy Virgil Ortiz

“Revolt”

“Revolt 1680/2180: Runners + Gliders” transports viewers to the year 2180 and introduces Ortiz's newest characters in the artist's decades-long “Revolt” storyline. Nineteen total figures in the series represent the 19 Pueblos remaining in New Mexico. These latest characters, runners and gliders, are inspired by the historic figures Omtua and Catua who were integral in the success of the 1680 uprising.

Serving as messengers during the 1680 rebellion, Omtua and Catua delivered knotted cords made of deer hide which served as coded messages to the then-45 Pueblos across what is now New Mexico. The leaders of each Pueblo were instructed to untie one knot on the cord every morning; when the final knot was undone, the Pueblos were to simultaneously rise up against their oppressors. 

That’s not what happened.

Other runners similarly dispatched were captured by the Spanish two days prior to the Revolt’s planned launch – August 11, 1680. The colonizers had been oblivious to the plot which was years in the making before being tipped off by one of the Pueblos.

Tortured, the runners divulged the plan.

Realizing the element of surprise had been lost, leadership of the Revolt hastily sent out new runners with updated instructions to move forward the next day, August 10. And so they did, rising mostly in unison, swiftly overcoming the European invaders and then converging on Santa Fe, the capital of the province.

This was the first American Revolution, the only successful Indigenous uprising against a colonizing power in North America, and it occurred nearly 100 years before 1776.

Roughly 1,000 Spanish sought refuge in the Governor’s Palace. They were surrounded by more than 2,000 united Indigenous warriors. The Puebloans allowed the captives to break out and join with another similarly sized group further south. Instead of a massacre, the warriors escorted the Spanish south out of the territory.

Pueblo Independence didn’t last long.

The Spanish reconquered the area 12 years later, but the power dynamic was more equal. This was not abject subjugation. Pueblo life ways persisted.

Indigenous futurism in the artwork of Virgil Ortiz | Photo courtesy Virgil Ortiz

Indigenous futurism in the artwork of Virgil Ortiz | Photo courtesy Virgil Ortiz

“Runners + Gliders”

“Revolt 1680/2180: Runners + Gliders” spotlights themes of justice and resistance to oppression. The runners call back to 1680, “the Gliders of the year 2180 are similarly gifted with extraordinary abilities of communication and flight,” Ortiz explains. (At that same link, the artist reveals secret augmented reality experiences visitors to the exhibit can unlock when they know where to look.)

“The 2180 characters are us in the future. They're coming back to the present time and historic time and they're collecting artifacts – songs or language or designs – and taking it back to 2180 – storing it, protecting it – so when we get to that time dimension, we still have everything intact,” he said. “I love historical storytelling, but that's not my gig. I'm not an academic.’”

Ortiz, the youngest of six children, grew up in a creative environment in which storytelling, collecting clay, gathering wild plants, and producing figurative pottery was part of everyday life. His grandmother, Laurencita Herrera, and his mother, Seferina Ortiz, were both renowned Pueblo potters and part of an ongoing matrilineal heritage.

“I didn’t even know it was art that was being produced while I was growing up,” he remembers.

Although Ortiz works in many mediums, he is best known as a ceramicist. He began working with clay as a 6-year-old and realized his future as an artist was predestined when discovering the figures he had been creating as a child and teenager inadvertently recalled Cochiti Monos figures from the turn of the 20th century.

“Clay is the core of all my creations,” Ortiz said. “My work centers on preserving traditional Cochiti culture and art forms. It’s important to recognize that Pueblo communities are very much alive and have a level of vitality that speaks to generations of strength, persistence, brilliance, and thriving energy.”

Ortiz keeps Cochiti pottery traditions alive while transforming them into a contemporary vision embracing his Pueblo history and culture, merging it with apocalyptic themes, sci-fi, and his own storytelling.

The fantastical, futuristic imagery inspires his artmaking personally, and also widens the appeal of his work.

“I try to reach the next generation and kind of trick them into learning a history lesson,” Ortiz explains, “doing that with characters and storyline in two different time dimensions which allowed me to create cool sci-fi characters.”

Educating the world about the Pubelo Revolt of 1680 drives the artist’s work. Even in Santa Fe, even in New Mexico and across the Southwest, let alone all of America, the event is little known. Ortiz has done more to raise awareness of the Revolt through the global reach of his artwork, exhibitions and social media accounts than any book, documentary or historian.

There’s even a “Revolt” room installed by Ortiz at the wildly popular Meow Wolf in Santa Fe.

He remains humble about his impact, however.

“I'm just a bead in a necklace with the work that I do so to spread the word and education about the Revolt.”

2180

That seems like a long time off until you realize how much closer it is than 1680.

Virgil Ortiz

Virgil Ortiz

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