Hege Gallery Presents Interdisciplinary Exhibit
April 10, 2009
Filed under Archives
“After taking Ayahuascha from a shaman, I had mythical images come to me. In my vision, a woman came to me and said, ‘take your talents and show the beauty and destruction of this place,’” said artist David Hewson’88. Hewson’s vision inspired him to create the exhibit, “The Road & Wilderness: Beauty and Destruction in the Peruvian Amazon,” which opened in the Hege gallery on March 16 and will stay up until April 29. Hege Gallery hosted an artist meet-and-greet on March 31, organized by Director and Curator of the Art Gallery, Terry Hammond.
Many students responded to the way his work enhanced awareness of the changes occurring in Peruvian culture.
“His work is a vivid representation of spirituality, culture and globalization all coming together,” said Josh Lewis ’08. “Some artists can exoticize the indigenous. But Hewson’s work includes information about Peru, and shows how we (Americans), because of our need for resources, are involved in changing the mythology, ecology and culture of a region.”
The left wall of the gallery features Peruvian myths and legends, the front wall shows a mixture of portraits and mythology, and the right wall includes more traditional portraits. Many of the portraits depict healers and shaman that Hewson met.
John Gall, a part-time lecturer in art, pointed out how student artists could benefit from observing the studies and final paintings exhibited on the right and left walls.
“His work is magical,” said CCE junior and art major Kathleen Kennedy. “It mixes an early Renaissance style with the spiritual realm-it’s a great modern-day touch.”
The gilding found in many of his pieces came from his training in Italy, where he worked at Palazzo Spinelli, an institute for art restoration.
When asked about the potential contradiction of using a European gilding technique to portray indigenous people in Peru, Hewson explained:
“Gold has ancient symbolism that is not just a part of the Christian tradition. Since gold does not oxidize, the ancient Egyptians used it as a symbol of immortality. In Peru they used large quantities in paint to create meridian vortexes.”
While considering Hewson’s intention for applying gold, Assistant Professor of Art David Newton hypothesized, “Sometimes people, especially many sculptors, use materials because of their own power and energy.”
Others stressed the aesthetic value.
“The pattern in the gilding is incredible. He manages to achieve the same amount of luminosity in the paint as he does in the gilded sections-quite masterful,” said Kennedy while looking at the piece “Yacumana.”
In the pamphlet “Amazon Journey: Sandhills artist David Hewson finds his soul in a forbidden place,” he described the background behind “Yacumana.”
“Among the Peruvian native people, ‘Yacumana’ is a powerful spirit, the deity of the waters, rivers and lakes, a female spirit, usually depicted in the form of a large snake. This is my own interpretation of this important lady in native culture.”
Many of his other pieces capture the same essence, for example, “Chullachaque,” a trickster of the jungle, rendered in complete human form except for his deer leg, and “Saga del Alma,” another name for Ayahuasca meaning, “vine of the soul,” depicted as a woman embracing a wooden staff with vines intertwining throughout the gilded background.
Voehringer Professor of Economics and Hewson’s former mentor Robert G. Williams commented on the exhibit’s overall interdisciplinary approach.
“He is a great craftsman, with a traditional art background in drawing, painting, and gilding,” said Williams. “What makes his collection remarkable is the added step that he took to do field work, and anthropological studies of the indigenous.”
Hewson learned many of his research techniques while earning his economics degree at Guilford. In the hallway outside of the gallery, the glass display cases exhibit the data he collected, including drawn-out regional maps, some photographs, and a descriptive overview of the problems confronting indigenous populations.
“The mood in certain places (in Peru) is of sickness,” said Hewson. “People are ill and dying from ingesting heavy metals.”
He explained how extracting oil leads to river contamination that can devastate entire villages, such as the Nahua groups who lost 50 percent of their population.
Hewson described how he wanted to give a voice to the unheard native peoples of Peru both by celebrating their culture in paintings and by showing photographs of the atrocities committed by the oil companies to raise awareness.
While giving a tour of the exhibit, Hammond recalled a comment that spoke to her own fears about Hewson’s work:
“I heard from someone viewing the exhibit that he hopes that Hewson is not the next Edward S. Curtis, whose photographs are one of the few living documents of Northern Native American cultures that no longer exist.