Sacred water

Art exhibit focuses on reverence and vitality of the community's lifeblood

By Dena Miller
Posted 4/17/19

Agua es vida. Aside from quenching our own thirst, our water quenches the thirst of our crops, our livestock and of the many other things upon which our human existence depends. Water …

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Sacred water

Art exhibit focuses on reverence and vitality of the community's lifeblood


Agua es vida. Aside from quenching our own thirst, our water quenches the thirst of our crops, our livestock and of the many other things upon which our human existence depends. Water is indeed life.

Here in Taos -- nestled in the often dusty, dry valley -- the arrival of spring means welcomed snowmelt and the annual ritual of cleaning and maintaining the many acequias that nourish us with the gift of those surface waters. Our aquifers are replenished and our rivers run high. To Máye Torres, owner of the gallery Studio 107B, it seemed timely to celebrate the delicate relationship between this precious commodity and ourselves.

"Acequias and Holy Water," the gallery's latest show, opened Saturday (April 13) and will be on view through May 31. It features the work of 50 invited artists whose submissions highlight the dance of nature.

"Our water is truly holy to us," Torres said. But while in the planning stages for the exhibit, "Acequias and Holy Water" also took a turn toward the political. "At first this exhibit was appropriate to the season," Torres said, "but to many of the artists who chose to participate it took on even more significance with the recent events that have drawn attention to our complicated relationship with water."

Torres was referring to the mid-March Guardians of Taos Water protest in which Buck Johnston, a Native American member of GOT, was arrested after spending four days atop a water well drilling rig. "He was protesting the Abeyta Water Rights Adjudication, a thoroughly convoluted settlement between the federal government, Taos Pueblo, the state, and local water districts," she explained. "So the political, cultural and socioeconomic discord of water rights, never far away, came back to the forefront of our conversation."

Yet this striking exhibit is in itself uplifting, a chance for the common language of art to engage with and speak to the senses on a level that transcends divergence.

Anita Rodríguez approached the issue in "The Water Protector," based upon a photograph from Standing Rock in which a woman holding a single eagle feather kneels before armed military troops. The painting's mystical, pre-Christian imagery denotes protection, and a skeleton holds the earth in its hand.

"I can say 'Standing Rock,' "Rodríguez said in a prescient 2016 talk. "Those words have power, don't they? 'Water is life.' No long dissertations on climate change, imperialism and racism - 'Water is life.' Those words transcend race, class and species. 'Water is life.'

"The indigenous-led global environmental movement has begun, and I am thankful I have lived long enough to see the power of nonviolence and spiritual power reveal itself. I believe this is our last chance. Those who have suffered the longest from racism on this continent, it turns out, are the only ones who figured out how to unite us - 'Water is life.' And they are demonstrating the power of nonviolence, of spiritual power."

And Pat McCabe, known as Woman Stands Shining and Buck Johnston's mother, lends her international reputation to the exhibit as a grassroots advocate whose paintings "are created as tools for individual, earth and global healing." The potter Mercedes Montoya brings a traditional water jug crafted from micaceous clay as her solemn nod, while the elaborate copper plate etchings of Christopher Taylor capture the ritual of irrigation and its importance to the fragile cycle of life.

Others have approached the exhibit in more abstract terms. The eminent Larry Bell has submitted "Fraction #3810," one of his series of collaged small pieces. His process "involves a laminate press; heat and pressure loosen deposits of paint and thin-film coating, resulting in unpredictable wispy gestural lines and flowing forms," according to his website, and which in this case rendered a piece reminiscent of wildlife skimming the horizon between water and sky.

"Two Rivers," an organic ceramic sculpture by artist Hank Saxe, who is noted for his artistry with clay and minerals, features exactly that: two meandering channels crossing between high mesas, the silvery, metallic glaze shimmering much as the sun does on a lake.

"After a long drought, we can't relax because we had a wet winter. As we face expanded growth in the area, we really must be mindful of our water usage and recognize there is not an unlimited supply," emphasized Torres, a cause about which the artist/activist is passionate and whose own mixed-media piece "Water Woman" is featured in the show.

The New Mexico Acequia Association said, "There is an enduring divinity that lingers in the Taos Valley, an entity that flows against the weight of the ages, the demands of the people and the disputes over its existence. The water of the Taos Valley is one of the most resilient watersheds in the Western Hemisphere, quenching the thirst of some of the most arid lands of the Southwest. One cannot deny that the water and land of this region is sacred, beginning with Blue Lake, the mother to Taos Pueblo, and to her people that have defended this sacrament to the highest human capacity."

Your attention to "Acequias and Holy Water" is an acknowledgement of that sacredness, a unique opportunity to contemplate the many voices touching upon an issue that crosses all of our lives and all of our cultures, every day. The diversity of voices warrant it.

Torres said she is also planning to include speakers on the subject of water during the exhibit's run. Watch for announcements in Tempo magazine.

Studio 107B is located at 107B North Taos Plaza. For more information, call (575) 779-7832 or email


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