Visitors to the Getty Center in Los Angeles are now greeted in the museum’s rotunda entrance by a new series of massive suspended abalone forms. These pearlescent sculptures and artwork encircling the domed structure are a part of Mercedes Dorame: Woshaa’axre Yaang’aro (Looking Back), created by School of Art faculty Mercedes Dorame as the inaugural installation for the museum’s Rotunda Commission series.
Dorame, who was recently appointed as a regular faculty member in the School of Art’s Photo/Media Program, urges viewers to consider their position in relation to the land we collectively inhabit with the Getty installation. The depiction of abalone, a mollusk classified as critically endangered, is culturally significant to the native people of coastal California. She further described the work in the Getty’s announcement:
While visiting Getty, I have often heard the phrase, “on a clear day you can see Catalina Island.” These experiences highlight my awareness of the Museum’s unique position as the only art institution I can think of to have this visual relationship to an island I have an ancestral connection to as a Tongva person. Through this project, I am interested in reversing the view of looking out towards Pimugna (Catalina Island) and presenting a return gaze through the vantage point of an island, a Tongva person, and the abalone to insist on engaging the First Peoples of this place, our cultural memory, and the ecologies of our tribal territories.
The work reflects Dorame’s wider practice of reopening “portals of memory” through the lens of her Tonvga heritage, creating installations as a means of reconnecting with her ancestors. Last year, she joined the inaugural cohort of five women photographers for Unseen California, an arts platform initiative founded by alum Karolina Karlic (Art MFA 10) in partnership with the UC Natural Reserve Systems; her research focused on the exchanges between the inhabitants of Santa Cruz Island and Catalina Island.
Dorame joins other CalArtians whose works are currently on view at the Getty: Running concurrently to Woshaa’axre Yaang’aro are Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue and Barbara T. Smith: The Way to Be, featuring the works of alums Carrie Mae Weems (Art BFA 81) and Barbara T. Smith (Chouinard 65), respectively.