Founded in 2006 Albuquerque’s 516 ARTS is a non-collecting contemporary art museum which has a strong history of featuring Indigenous artists front and center in an in-depth way. That spotlight is likely to get even wider and brighter with the hiring of 516’s new curator, Rachelle Pablo. This curatorial position is supported in part by a major new grant to 516 ARTS from the Henry Luce Foundation in their area of Native American Intellectual Leadership. But Pablo is doing double duty, representing both Native American culture (as an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation) and our state’s LGBTQIA scene (as a self-described queer artist).
“The intersectionality nurtured by the 516 ARTS team is a value that appeals to me as a queer Diné artist and museum professional,” says Pablo from her new post in Downtown.
516 ARTS has a history of working with guest curators on its various exhibits, but Pablo is a full-time staff member and will be the primary curator of exhibitions. “I am very excited to work with Rachelle Pablo as our new curator,” says 516 ARTS Executive Director Suzanne Sbarge. “Her focus on Indigenous art is a great fit with our longtime priority of centering diverse artists in our programming. I believe her scholarship of Native American art, her understanding of the complexities of cultures in New Mexico, and her varied life experiences bring a valuable new perspective to our work at 516 ARTS.”
Born in Gallup, New Mexico, Pablo is a veteran of the U.S. Armed Services and holds an MA in Art History from the University of Delaware and a BFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts in Studio Arts with a minor in Museum Studies. She also holds an Associates of Arts in Anthropology and Liberal Arts from Central New Mexico Community College. Following a curator fellowship at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem and working on a variety of projects with the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC, Pablo found herself drawn home to New Mexico. “A quick answer to what drew me back is the pandemic,” admits Pablo. “My graduate education began in the fall of 2019 in Delaware. Not long after that, the pandemic hit the world in the spring of 2020. My internships and fellowships were remote in response to the COVID-19 crisis.”
The new job at 516 ARTS gives Pablo the opportunity to combine her artistic background (she was raised by her grandmother, a traditional Navajo weaver), her academic pursuits and her unique sense of identity.
“Indigeneity and queer culture have always co-existed, especially before Western contact
during the pre-colonial era. Queerness was never a concern till Western religions
brought exclusionary and patriarchal philosophies. As far as the arts with queer
presence, this is also nothing new.” says Pablo. “I see Indigenous queer art thriving. It’s long overdue.”
Pablo’s first curated exhibition, When the Dogs Stop Barking/Cuando los Perros Dejen de Ladra, is part of 516’s ongoing examination of art and migration along the U.S. border. The exhibition went up Oct. 1 and will continue through the end of December. It presents the work of five artists whose “compassionate and deeply personal perspectives on the humanitarian crisis extend 3,154 kilometers/1,954 miles from the Gulf of Mexico shores to the Pacific Ocean coastline.”
The exhibition’s title, as the curator explains, derives from a print titled “Roxy Didn’t Even Bark” by Makaye Lewis. “The humane response to migrants crossing the border by her dog Roxy contrasts with the inhumane actions exhibited by CBP agents.” 516 ARTS hired Pablo in mid-May, and she has been working on the show for about four months. “This amount of time is not much, considering the creative and intellectual labor that an exhibition demands. I stepped into the selected theme and am grateful for the opportunity to expand my awareness about the humanitarian crisis in the border region.” The artist selection was “based upon the theme,” says Pablo. “My intention was for the work to carry a dialogue with one another. I immediately knew that Makaye Lewis from the Tohono O’odham Nation would be a part of the show. Her reservation’s sovereign land is in Mexico and the United States. In addition, Juana Estrada Hernández’ work is a crucial component of the exhibition, especially as a DACA recipient, artist and now professor at Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kansas. Lastly, Joshua Wesley Wells’ family home is in Playa, New Mexico, known as the ‘boot heel’ of New Mexico. Wells’s Afro-Mexican identity and his found object work strengthened the harsh environment of the Mexico/US border landscapes.”
In addition to putting together art exhibitions, Pablo is now tasked with coordinating 516 ARTS’ statewide Indigenous arts programming. “I intend to emphasize that relationship-building with the Indigenous arts communities by listening, creating engagement and assisting with their artistic process. Many Indigenous artists are overlooked for various reasons, and there’s a consistent presence of the same artists. I can open an Indigenous art magazine and see the same artists from 10 years ago highlighted in current publications. That’s concerning. I hope to create space for the many talented artists who are not as widely known. They deserve that acknowledgment.”
As for what the future (and her role in creating it) at 516 ARTS holds, Pablo states simply: “Access, access, access for all artists.”
You can get a look Rachelle Pablo’s first curated exhibition When the Dogs Stop Barking/Cuando los Perros Dejen de Ladra at 516 ARTS (516 Central Ave. SW) now through Dec. 31. For more information, visit 516arts.org.