Monday, May 9, 2011

The Artist's Eye: Mari Omori on Northwest Coast Art

by Dean Liscum

On Sunday, May 1, 2011 at 3 p.m. I attended a presentation by the artist Mari Omori at the Menil Collection as part of their Artist's Eye series. On the first Sunday of every month, the series invites a local (read Houston) artist to talk about any works of art in the Menil's permanent collection or in a temporary exhibition that it hosts. Omori chose to discuss Northwest Coast Art in conjunction with the opening of the exhibition Upside Down: Arctic Realities.

Mari Omori at the Menil Library
Omori is currently a Professor of Art at Lone Star College-Kingwood. Her art combines eastern and western styles, (She was born in Japan and settled in the U.S. as an adult.) and is very process oriented. During the lecture, Omori covered the integral part that art played in the indigenous people's lives, commonalities and differences among the indigenous cultures, and the native people's fight against the European's attempt to suppress native traditions and force adoption of Eurocentric practices.

After Omori concluded her lecture (which I hope the Menil will post), she informed the audience that we had an assignment. Then she invited Joan Son, an expert at Origami to lead us in making a northwest coast art-inspired bird mask.

Joan Son performing an origami lesson
About 75% of the audience succeeded. I failed. After numerous retries with the same piece of paper, mine looked like a John Chamberlain sculpture.

Joan Son with a finished origami bird mask
After the lecture, the audience was encouraged to view the exhibition Upside Down: Arctic Realities, which is based on the work by Dr. Edmund Carpenter. A docent at the entrance insisted that I put booties over my shoes, which seemed silly until I entered the gallery. Then I saw, understood, and appreciated the precaution. The all-white installation is minimal, stark, and icily beautiful. If they give awards for designing and installing art, the team responsible for Upside Down should win it.


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