“Jeffrey Gibson: This Is the Day” at the Blanton

The artist explores his indigenous roots and American identity in this solo exhibition

Jeffrey Gibson's "This Is the Day" is a rousing title that refracts into a question: This is the day ... for what? A diverse exhibition of 50-plus works ranging from paintings to punching bags, the solo show ties the artist's Native American heritage to modern American culture, resulting in a fantastically syncretic display of the sacred and the sequined.

As a child, Gibson moved around quite a bit, living abroad with his family (his father was a civil engineer), far from life on a reservation, more defined by his U.S. passport than his Choctaw and Cherokee background. Yet his role as an outsider forged a unique perspective on how cultures differ and overlap – including the complicated American narrative he came from.

"This Is the Day" begins with a series of indigenous wall hangings, many of which include various song lyrics that only become obvious after a few moments – everything from Eighties pop to "Amazing Grace." Gibson is having fun with synthesizing these somewhat random cultural references: The "JC" on his Love Supreme piece might just as easily stand for Jesus Christ as John Coltrane. Other wall hangings include more cryptic messages, like "In Such Times, Clowns Become Witnesses." The catchiest phrase emerging from these funky bead designs is "Look How Far We've Come," which shines bright with melancholic irony and makes me wonder once again: This is the day for what?

Gibson's abundant use of colorful materials, such as glass beads, vibrant fringe, and metal jingles, reinforces notions of traditional and tribal aesthetic, though more subtle details in his work (an image of a Google search bar, the Everlast boxing logo) reveal a darker subtext of capitalism and consumerism. This duality culminates in the back space with an impressive display of kimono-like garments known as ghost shirts suspended in air, their garishly tasseled arms outstretched as a collective welcome to visitors – garments which were traditionally worn by Native Americans during ceremonial dances to ward off the white man.

The 8-minute film toward the end of the show is not to be missed, with its hypnotically quotidian details taking us through the daily routine of a trans woman living on a Choctaw reservation in Mississippi. We watch her putting on makeup while getting ready for work with such quiet tenderness that it's easy to forget the pain in her truth and grace as she moves through a world which likely struggles to understand her. The film then shifts into an evocative nature scene, where the protagonist, garbed in a simple robe, glides deeper and deeper into the center of a lake, preparing for some kind of personal ritual which feels both baptismal and ominous. She disappears completely beneath the water's surface, as if pulled down by a weight, before rising back up moments later, along with the answer to the question: This is the day.

“Jeffrey Gibson: This Is the Day”

Blanton Museum of Art, 200 E. MLK
Through Sept. 29

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Blanton Museum of Art
"Black Is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite"
Images from a decade of building Black identity and community say it loud

Robert Faires, Aug. 6, 2021

The Blanton Museum Undertakes a $35 Million Makeover of Its Grounds
The Blanton Museum Undertakes a $35 Million Makeover of Its Grounds
With the international architectural firm Snøhetta, the UT museum will add community spaces and art to its outdoor experience

Robert Faires, Jan. 22, 2021

More Arts Reviews
Review: Zach Theatre’s <i>Hershey Felder as George Gershwin Alone</i>
Review: Zach Theatre's Hershey Felder as George Gershwin Alone
A masterful tribute to the father of the Great American Songbook

Jay Trachtenberg, Sept. 22, 2023

Review: Zach Theatre’s The Girl Who Became Legend
Review: Zach Theatre's The Girl Who Became Legend
World premiere of epic Americana folktale delights young and old

Bob Abelman, Sept. 22, 2023

More by Barbara Purcell
Deborah Hay's New Work for Dancers in Sweden Was a Long-Distance Creation
Deborah Hay's New Work for Dancers in Sweden Was a Long-Distance Creation
The pandemic forced the Austin choreographer to adapt her dance and even premiere for an audience of no one

Sept. 10, 2021

Artist Calder Kamin Envisions
Artist Calder Kamin Envisions "A World Without Waste"
With animals crafted from plastic bags, the Austin native turns our eyes to nature

July 2, 2021


Jeffrey Gibson, Blanton Museum of Art, Summer of Pride

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle