SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — Virgil Ortiz, a Cochiti Pueblo Native, is one of the most innovative potters working today. His latest ceramic exhibition Taboo at King Galleries (Scottsdale, Arizona, April 20 – current) explores the concepts of the unacceptable and forbidden with its erotic stencil-like motifs and sculptures of leather harness bound and vinyl masked muscular bodies. However, the motifs themselves are trite, not taboo.
Taboo is the concept of the unacceptable or forbidden. It ranges from topics we avoid in polite conversation, to that which society proscribes as outside its current social, sexual, cultural or political mores. Many actions or even social groups, which were once considered “taboo”, are now part of the mainstream. When does that which is forbidden become that which is acceptable?
What is taboo is Ortiz’s challenging act of innovatively and exquisitely employing these motifs on traditional black on cream forms as a means of social commentary.
What is taboo is that some Native Americans, who already struggle to preserve their indigenous identity may find the erotic motifs insulting to traditional pottery and a traditional way of life. In fact, Ortiz, himself, is the product of a long lineage of potters.
It may all be a bit taboo for Native art, but what is “cutting edge” today will certainly be the standard of tomorrow.
Even so, blending pop-culture (even the periphery) and indigenous-culture isn’t new with many young artists exploring what it means to grow up in between worlds.
“Creativity comes to me from continuing the story of my Cochiti people and how we see the world around us. Our art from the late 1800’s told the stories of what those people were experiences at that time. That opened the door for me to use taboo topics to engage people about today’s society, culture, politics, religion and even social media.”
Ortiz’s exquisite clay work has been featured in numerous museum exhibits nationwide, and is now venturing into decor, video and film.
He is also known for his fashion design. His designs are captivating, provocative, and edgy — and are creating quite a stir. His sharp laser-cut leather jackets, swinging taffeta skirts, cashmere sweaters and silk scarves echo the voluminous contours and sinuous motifs of Pueblo pottery. He showcases the richness of indigenous high fashion and compelling storytelling of Pueblo culture and history.
This article was the apex of a conversation with Institute of American Indian Arts student artist Chaz John.
Do you love or loathe this work on contemporary ceramic art? Let us know in the comments.