January 1, 2023
This week we recognize Leah Mata Fragua, Leah Mata Fragua, a yak tityu tityu yak tiłhini Chumash artist/scholar working in place based art, exploring the intersections of environment and social justice.
"My artistic evolution has led me to explore the ephemeral, where the intent of my work is not meant to last forever but rather exists in transient moments and challenges our own perception of time and mortality. As a placed-based artist, I am deeply rooted in the ancestral lands of the yak tityu tityu yak tiłhini (Northern Chumash) tribe along the California Central Coast. My mission is to create ephemeral works that honor my community’s values around sustainability practices while shedding light on pressing environmental issues. I believe that my work can serve as a platform for protecting cultural resources by bringing greater awareness to the environment where I collect my materials. In this respect, my work also provides a narrative about the importance of tribes in exercising our sovereign gathering rights."
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"Historically, my primary medium was abalone, chosen for its intrinsic link to specific landscapes. However, the climate emergency and subsequent regulatory restrictions have necessitated a shift in my material palette. This challenge led me to explore the art of papermaking. Integrating handmade paper into my practice not only allowed me to maintain a strong geographical connection in my work but also opened new avenues for artistic expression. The process of papermaking, from pulp preparation to the final pressing, has become a metaphor for regeneration and sustainability in the face of environmental challenges. It represents a new chapter in my artistic journey, one that blends with my environmental ethos."
"In terms of subject matter, my pieces often depict landscapes on the brink of change, capturing the fleeting moments of natural beauty and cultural significance. Through my art, I work to transport viewers to these places, making the distant and abstract tangibly immediate. The integration of place-based details is meticulous, creating an immersive experience that not only showcases the beauty of these landscapes but also serves as a clarion call for their protection."
"In my recent research, I explore the intersections of art, environmental science, and community engagement, using papermaking as a tool to delve into themes of sustainability, cultural identity, and ecological consciousness. This exploration is more than an artistic endeavor; it's a commitment to deepening our collective understanding of our relationship with the natural world and inspiring action towards its stewardship."
Leah Mata Fragua is an artist, educator, and member of the yak tityu tityu yak tiłhini (Northern Chumash) tribe located on the Central California Coast. As a place-based artist, Leah’s kincentric approach seamlessly blends shared iconography with personal imagery, highlighting the impact each has on the other. She uses a diverse range of materials, from synthetic to organic, placed based to modern, to explore the interconnectedness and dependence between land, kinships, and self. She understands that her art is a reflection of the way she prioritizes the protection of traditional materials and the continuation of art forms that are important to her community, which intersect with her individual practice. Fragua is an adjunct professor in the Indigenous Liberal Studies department at the Institute of American Indian Arts. She travels between New Mexico and California, maintaining close ties to her tribal community and ancestral homelands. Her award-winning work is included in many public and private collections internationally. She was also honored with a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship in 2011. She was selected as a Master Artist recipient for the Alliance of California Traditional Arts (ACTA) in 2013 and, most recently, the 2020 Barbra Dobkin Fellowship at the School of Advanced Research. Her education includes a B.A. in Anthropology and an M.A. in Cultural Sustainability from Goucher College, and she is currently completing her MFA at the Institute of American Indian Arts. www.leahmata.com
Featured images (top to bottom): ©Leah Mate Fragua, New Cultural Resources (Detail), Northern Chumash, 2017, elk hide, oil, strows, plastic bags, pop lids, 5 feet, 5 inches; California poppies, 2023, handmade with abica plup, chamisa and madder root; Dentalium and Abalone Choker Necklace; Lepo Lepo, 2023, cottonwood bark, willow bark, and cotton, included in The Iridescence of Knowing at Oxy Arts; Traditional Northern Chumash dress with contemporary twist embellished with 50 meticulously cut abalone shells, each shaped like a water droplet; Self-portrait of the artist in her studio.