“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 almost 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
New Exhibit at the Blanton Will Have You Feeling the Bern
New Exhibit at the Blanton Will Have You Feeling the Bern
"The Avant-garde Networks of Amauta" explores the social movement from Latin America in the 1920s

Barbara Purcell, March 6, 2020

Kambui Olujimi Speaks Art to Power in
Kambui Olujimi Speaks Art to Power in "Zulu Time"
This Brooklyn artist’s solo exhibition at the Blanton shows how those in power make sure the world runs on their watch

Barbara Purcell, March 15, 2019

More Arts Reviews
<i>All Things Left Wild</i> by James Wade
All Things Left Wild by James Wade
In his debut novel, the Austin author reveals a world of brotherly sin and redemption across the Old West

Wayne Alan Brenner, Aug. 7, 2020

Book Review: <i>Network Effect</i> by Martha Wells
Book Review: Network Effect by Martha Wells
In this first full-length novel featuring Murderbot, the violent but endearing rogue AI is back for more adventures to delight "all the stupid humans"

Elizabeth Cobbe, July 31, 2020

More by Barbara Purcell
Obey Giantess: Mega Mural of Feminist Proportions Pops Up Downtown
Obey Giantess: Mega Mural of Feminist Proportions Pops Up Downtown
Artists Sandra Chevrier and Shepard Fairey give Austin a 12-story tribute to the centenary of the 19th Amendment

March 20, 2020

Fernando Saralegui's <i>Best Eats Havana</i>
Fernando Saralegui's Best Eats Havana
Dishing on the many flavors of Cuba’s capital

Feb. 18, 2020


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

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

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