Modern Art Oxford presents: Mariana Castillo Deball: Between making and knowing something

Sep 09 2020

2 October 2020 – 3 January 2021

This major new commission by Mariana Castillo Deball (b. 1975 in Mexico City, lives and works in Berlin) fundamentally questions methods of knowledge formation in Western museum collections. Featuring an expansive aerial installation, archival photographs and repurposed museum display cases, the exhibition uncovers hidden stories and individuals, with a particular focus on artefacts and archives held in the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford and the Smithsonian Museum National Collections in Washington D.C.

For the exhibition Deball has created a dynamic suspended installation of ceramics and textiles. These hand-made objects are a demonstration of the artist’s observations on the early stages of ethnographic work when, as the artist states, “there was no difference between making and knowing something”. The ceramic pieces are made out of red stoneware and painted using techniques and designs common to the Zuni, a Native American Pueblo people native to the Zuni River valley. Through the installation Deball traces the lives of Zuni lhamana We’wha (1849–1896), and her collaborator and controversial anthropologist Matilda Coxe Stevenson (1849 -1915).

The smaller galleries at Modern Art Oxford feature reproduced photographs documenting the fieldwork of explorer Elsie Colsell McDougall (1879–1961), and Makereti Papakura (1873-1930), who was a highly successful tour guide in New Zealand. These materials are displayed in 19th century museum cases loaned from the Natural History Museum in Oxford. One of the cases is empty and, through an audio piece, Deball reflects on the responsibilities and challenges of interpreting, manufacturing and reproducing material culture as a contemporary artist.

Between making and knowing something is Deball’s first UK solo exhibition since 2013. For her, extensive research is essential to creating new ideas for an exhibition as her practice mediates between science, archaeology, and the visual arts, exploring the way these disciplines describe the world. Her work highlights collaborations and the exchange of knowledge as a transformative process for everyone involved, which she realises by experimenting with modes of reproduction. As she explains “recreating an object makes one understand and read the object in a different way”. Deball’s exhibition at Modern Art Oxford acknowledges how stories are performed and retained in museums, and makes visible lesser known practitioners and makers, whose histories have remained too long obscured.

This exhibition is supported by the Mexican Embassy and Mexican Agency for International Development Cooperation.