Installation - Rita from the Sky
RITA FROM THE SKY
This work is a 15-piece installation I created for the traveling exhibit Collaborative Vision: The Poetic Dialogue Project. Curator Beth Shadur chose 31 artist-and-poet teams to work together.
Specifically Rita from the Sky was inspired by a journey poem by Jimmy Santiago Baca of New Mexico.
In 2009 and 2010 the project was exhibited at the Chicago Cultural Center, Indiana State University in Terre Haute, and Bowling Green State University in Ohio.
The journey of a Tarahumara woman who walked to Kansas from her home in the Copper Canyon of Chihuahua, Mexico inspired New Mexico poet Jimmy Santiago Baca to write "Rita from the Sky," a work that transforms her unimaginably difficult sojourn into a pilgrimage to the land of origin of the
Aztec people. The poem is written in a long-form monologue, weaving the harsh realities of Rita's physical undertaking and the symbols of her spiritual crossing as she responds to the summoning voices of her ancestors. As in Aztec mythology, the natural and spiritual worlds are intertwined in thepoem. Chicago artist Shelley Gilchrist responded by interpreting some of the poem's vivid symbolic imagery: desert, animals, sky, sun, heat are represented in encaustic on stepping stones that symbolize Rita's journey of return, while on interspersed "sky" pieces are text fragments of Rita's monologue that invoke the sacred and give meaning to her odyssey.
Included in the art work is a reproduction of the seven caves of Chicomoztoc, the mythical place of origin of the Aztec people, from the Historia Tolteca Chichimeca. The line drawing depicts Rita's journey in the style of the Aztec migration rendering in the Codex Boturini. Aztlan, or place of the Aztec ancestors, is often represented in mythology by the blue heron. Chili, cornmeal and sage, essential in Aztec and Chicano culture, are elements of the mandala. The onion "carried" by Rita is Baca's homage to Spanish poet Miguel Hernandez and a reference to his work "Lullaby of the Onion."