NORMAN, Oklahoma — Raven Halfmoon’s (Caddo Nation) stoneware sculptures embrace the monumental. The artist, whose first major solo exhibition, Raven Halfmoon: Flags of Our Mothers, opened on June 25 at The Aldrich Contemporary in Connecticut, situates her work within the canon of Caddo culture and production, while entering into a dialogue with both intimate and broad themes.
Halfmoon grew up in Norman, Oklahoma, where she currently lives and works. “I always was a painter and I loved to draw in my formative years when I was in high school,” she told me in conversation at her studio. It was during her adolescence that she encountered clay as a medium. “My first touch of clay was with a Caddo elder named Jerry Redford,” she said. “This was my first time actually handling clay and making traditional pots and learning the material.” Once Halfmoon enrolled as an undergraduate at the University of Arkansas, she began to take classes and fully immerse herself in the medium to build a strong technical foundation: “It was then that I learned what clay can do.” In tandem with her studies and art practice at the university, she began to focus on her own history, heritage, and identity as a Caddo person, aspiring not only to know that history, but to express it through art, ultimately earning a BA in cultural anthropology alongside her fine arts degree.
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Looking at Halfmoon’s work, the ways in which she allows painting and ceramics to intersect and interact with one another becomes apparent. The artist treats the stoneware form almost like a canvas, splashing and drenching it with glaze that oozes down the sides, sometimes with text incorporated; words stretch and drip across the dimpled clay facades. Her name is scrawled across several works in bright red, black, or white. By writing her name and phrases such as “you don’t look Native” or “do you speak Indian,” she is not simply tagging the work but transmitting a message of presence to the viewer — that of her ancestors, her community, and herself.
Also present in the work is the artist’s hand: her fingers make visible impressions in the clay. Sculpting voluptuous figures with richly dynamic surfaces creates a shared humanity between the artwork, the artist, and the viewer. “Clay in general is so manipulative and there’s such a physicality to it,” she shared. “I build things up and I add clay and smash it and swipe my hands across and then I’m taking clay back out. I’m adding and subtracting; it’s just such a special material to me.” Though Halfmoon explores other mediums, including a recent interest in bronze and a return to painting, clay will always be at the core of her practice. “I will always work in clay,” she expressed. “My ancestors and my tribe have had such an intimate relationship with clay, and clay is tied to the land, and that’s so important where we come from and that [connection] to land and what that means.”
For her Connecticut show, co-organized between The Aldrich and the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in Omaha, Halfmoon displays preexisting pieces alongside ambitious new works that stretch the limits of clay. The show encompasses themes of power and Indigenous identity and perspective, and makes space for the stories of Indigenous women. The title, Flags of Our Mothers, has a particular resonance with the artist, one that she hopes is reflected to the viewer. “I imagine them [my works] as flags because of their size,” she noted. “But also, I read Flags of Our Fathers in high school and it’s about this fight for our country … but Flags of Our Mothers, for me, is [a reference to] my own experience and what my mother has taught me, our fight for our women, our story, my story, my tribe’s story, and so I feel the pieces are paving away for this new nation of these monumental women who demand to be heard.”