An artist of Choctaw and Cherokee descent, Jeffrey Gibson combines elements of traditional Native American craft with the visual languages of modernism to draw powerful personal, cultural, and historical connections between the two. Gibson’s work across painting, sculpture, and installation is invariably vibrant and visually rich. He is known for using traditional Indigenous materials, including animal hides, glass beads, and tipi poles, alongside more contemporary mediums such as video, paint and ceramics to create wearable sculptural garments, stand-alone sculptures, mixed media paintings and immersive installations.
A multi-channel video created specifically for the screens of Times Square, She Never Dances Alone (2019) is Gibson’s celebration of the Indigenous matriarchy, centering on the jingle dress dance, a powwow dance that originated with the Ojibewea tribe and is traditionally performed by women to call upon ancestors for strength, healing, and protection. As Sarah Ortegon, an acclaimed jingle dress dancer and Miss Native American USA 2013–14, performs in handmade dresses adorned with jingles or rows of ziibaaska’iganan (metal cones), the swaying colors, textures, and patterns pop against a black background and fold into kaleidoscopic abstractions. Ortegon’s image multiplies within each screen and across the plazas, creating the impression that many women have come together to dance over Times Square. The video ends with a close-up of Ortegon’s face after she has stopped dancing, calming her breath as she stares intently ahead — and at the people watching from below.
“I wanted to take this opportunity to draw attention to the importance and strength of Indigenous women. Many tribal communities were historically matriarchal and the acculturation towards patriarchal systems has caused great damage to our communities. We are currently experiencing a crisis with an overwhelming number of cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women, many of which are not investigated beyond the initial reporting. Times Square offers a huge global audience to witness this video and experience the dancing of Sarah Ortegon. It is not just about her as an individual but also the many women she represents. Having this video played in Times Square is an ancestral call for strength and healing for all Indigenous people, and a recognition of the power of Indigenous women.” —Jeffrey Gibson
She Never Dances Alone is presented in partnership with Brooklyn Museum on the occasion of Gibson’s major solo exhibition When Fire Is Applied to a Stone It Cracks, February 14, 2020 – January 10, 2021, for which he selected objects from the Museum’s collection and archives to display alongside examples of his recent work, including garments, beaded punching bags, paintings on hide and canvas, and ceramic vessels.