“Mata La Araña,” an essay, and “Recent Work,” cover art and insert
Rose B. Simpson is a mixed-media artist from Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico. Her work engages ceramic sculpture, metals, fashion, performance, music, installation, writing, and custom cars. She received an MFA in ceramics from Rhode Island School of Design in 2011, an MFA in creative nonfiction from the Institute of American Indian Arts in 2018, is collected in museums across the continent, and has exhibited internationally. She lives and works from her home at Santa Clara Pueblo and hopes to teach her young daughter how to creatively engage the world.
In your sculpture Self Portrait (2016), what elements of yourself do you seek to convey? What emotions lie behind the figure’s facial expression?
RS: This piece was made while I was pregnant. It represents a figure as a V8-engine. While pregnant, I felt as if my body was moving forward on her own—it was incredibly powerful but forced a type of faith in the process and journey.
MR: Self Portrait (and your other sculptures) are made of ceramic, steel, leather, and wire. Is there symbolism in your choice of materials?
RS: As a sculptor, I use many different materials. I come from a long lineage of ceramicists, as a Pueblo person from the southwest region. I also have an MFA in ceramics, so I often choose this material as it is comfortable and seems to represent me well. The rest of the materials are used to loosely represent parts of a gasoline engine.
MR: How do you move from an idea to your finished work? Does your brainstorming process differ while creating visual art and written work?
RS: With sculpting, the first step is usually a deadline, then passion (usually from a lived experience or a spelunking into some deep psychological cavity), then insomnia, then I usually do a rough sketch of my sculptures in my sketchbook to figure out engineering. I keep these sketches as abstract as possible. I learned early on that too much specificity is impossible to duplicate and keeps me from being aesthetically flexible in the process.
With writing, the first three steps are generally the same. Then I will type subjects I want to cover and edit those down, then bulk the subjects out randomly, relocating as needed.
MR: “Mata La Araña” comprises eight vignettes, or descriptive scenes, that explore themes of “conquest,” domination, and how these power dynamics can be internalized. Did you have a proposed sequence in mind while writing each section?
RS: With this piece, I wrote the vignettes in the order you see now. I didn’t catch the connection until the end, when I identified the common thread. I was writing my contemporary truth and experience, and it happened to speak to these issues. I didn’t think “I want to write about domination and conquest” and then continue from there. I wrote what was on my mind and it seemed to be cohesive. I don’t think this subject has changed much as this is a daily lived experience for someone with my identity in this place and time.
MR: How did the length of this piece shift from its initial to final draft? Were there any vignettes that you decided to remove or didn’t have room to include?
RS: What you see is basically what I began with (content-wise). This isn’t the case with most of my work.
MR: The presence of ancestral memory and historical trauma are unmistakable in this piece. Notably, the speaker refers to the imposition of the Reconquista, remembers their position during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, and prays for their daughter’s safety in section seven. Do you ever feel limited by form when trying to express this emotional depth?
RS: Absolutely. I feel so limited by the tools of our current expression. It seems there are compromises that we have to make to attempt to connect with people who don’t know this experience. How do we make change through our tools of media? The creative processes I practice to transform myself look very different than the ones I share. It takes work to whittle down an expansive emotional and supernatural process to something consumable and communicable. Every time I put something out, I am working to push the content to be increasingly daring and expansive.
MR: What compelled you to write this piece as an essay as opposed to fiction or poetry?
RS: Audience. Fiction often disappoints me in the limits it places on itself. I also don’t know if I’m brave enough to confront the vastness of fictional possibilities within myself, or take them seriously. I can’t help but read fiction with immense judgment. I find science fiction enjoyable because of the boldness available to it. Sadly, poetry seems very niche and limited as to who has access to it.
MR: Did you write “Mata La Araña” specifically for this issue of Massachusetts Review or was it a piece that you were already working on?
RS: This piece was one of many essays created for my CWMFA at the Institute of American Indian Arts.
MR: The last two paragraphs of your essay draw similarities between the speaker’s viewpoint and the justification for colonial violence often used by settlers. What was it like to place your narrator (an Indigenous woman) alongside past and present iterations of colonization and dominion?
RS:I don’t believe we can heal anything through the lens of victimhood. Yes, we [Indigenous people] are often true victims, but I find that violence and abuse are worldly phenomena and if we think we are above it, we are complicit. To change anything, we have to see the minutia within ourselves and come to terms with it. To navigate any challenge, we have to find where that sits uncomfortably, or even painfully, within ourselves. And sit with it until we learn something.
Rose’s work at the Denver Museum of Art, where her residency was held.