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By Kylie de Jesus, Curatorial Intern

As Autumn Gary and Alexis Javier prepare for their upcoming #art912 exhibition Of One Mind, I sat down with both artists to discuss their journeys as individuals, creatives, and humans. During my conversation with Autumn, she shared her cultural background, spiritual beliefs, work in outreach, and unraveled the central concepts behind the exhibition. Of One Mind will be on view in the Lewis Gallery and Sculpture Terraces from July 19, 2024, through February 9, 2025!

The following interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Kylie de Jesus (KDJ)
Why don’t you start by telling me a little bit about your background–where you grew up, how you got to Savannah, and your journey to the present.

Autumn Gary (AG)
Long story short, I grew up in a family of artists in Portland. My dad was a working artist who had a studio in the Pearl District, which is a thriving art community in downtown Portland. It was in a beautiful old loft building and on the bottom floor was a gallery called Blue Sky Gallery, owned by Chris Rauschenberg, Robert Rauschenberg’s son. So, when you came in you got to see a whole bunch of art before you took the freight elevator up to my dad’s studio. Most of my dad’s friends were artists too, so I got to know all these different artists and see them in their little habitats.

Along with my dad’s work in art, my mom was a physical therapist, so I think I was always immersed in this intersection between art and humanitarianism. Somehow, without it being something that I sought out, it just came to me.

I ended up on a different path than the traditional educational route, and I realize now that that was because I had the privilege of growing up the way I did. I’ve moved all around doing therapeutic art. It was something that I started doing in high school and now have done that everywhere I’ve lived: Portland, Brooklyn, New Mexico, Washington Heights, and now Savannah.

KDJ
It sounds like art was a big part of your life growing up.

AG
Yeah, and I think a big part of the narrative is that my biological mom is Native American. She’s always been a part of my life and an extremely powerful force. In the fabric of my being there’s a real mixture of cultural ideas and concepts. I grew up in a Christian house with Christian values, but I also had a lot of native teachings and values. The two really are not very different, but instead, are expressed very differently. So, the narrative inside me plays with how they work together. It’s a big part of my psyche. I think if you’re talking about who I am as a person, being raised in these two worlds shaped a big part of how I see the world.

For example, I’ve dreamt of snakes for many, many years and they have been a big part of my own healing. In the Bible, snakes are seen as devily, evil, negative, but, on the other hand they’ve been a healing force for me. So, it’s interesting how one symbol can have two completely opposite meanings.


Heart Awakening photographed by Kylie de Jesus

KDJ
Taking your cultural, geographical, and religious background and shifting that towards your art, how do you think your life path shaped your artistic practice? How have all these factors translated into your art?

AG
I feel that I am led by spirit. Finding my internal identity has been a big awakening for me. I think so often we get pigeonholed into just this physical Earth-suit identity, and so, in my art, I like to break the confines of what that means. A lot of my pieces are anthropomorphic. For example, I have what I call my killer whale Matriarch sculpture, but she doesn’t look like a killer whale. She has the body of a whale, a bird beak, and a human hand tail. All these elements come together to fuse the separate identities into one being. Nothing is truly separate from itself, and when we get to the source of understanding ourselves, we realize that we are everything. We’re not just these singular beings.

KDJ
So, would you say that your art reflects your journey trying to find yourself and your combination of identities? Or do you think it’s something separate?

AG
I don’t think it’s that, I think it’s more about understanding that everything is connected. The longer that I’ve been on this earth, the more I realize that it’s not just me. I’m not an individual agent in the world; I belong to my roots and my ancestors. I think so often we get distracted by the idea of identity and get wrapped up in the statements we want to make or the way we want to be seen, but I think I’m getting to a place where that is less important to me. What is important to me now is that we belong to one another. We belong to everything. It sounds esoteric, but I feel like my work is me coming back to the simple truth that we are what we are, regardless of what the world tries to tell us.

It comes down to identity. When you go to work, to church, to see your friends, or go to the club, be yourself. When all of those things are integrated, your life is your art and you become authentic, which to me is the highest frequency. I want people to get back into their essence, not overthink it, release what they are, and express what they are, so process is probably the most important part of creating for me.

KDJ
Can you tell me a little bit about your process?

AG
I would say almost everything I do is very intuitive. It comes from places like my dreams or free form sketching. If I’m doing sculpture for example, I’ll start with a loose sketch. I’ll just get into a space where I’m empty and can get out of my own way, then I sketch and allow whatever comes out to come out. Maybe it’s abstract, maybe I do these things I call intuitive scribble doodles, where I just allow myself to scribble until I see something. It’s interesting how they inform me about myself. And that is the beauty of art. It’s one thing we can do that teaches us about ourselves. I use that same tool with people in my therapeutic art outreach too.

A lot of the work we are making for the show is influenced by very ancient and ancestral types of art like cave paintings, petroglyphs, and line drawings. To me, the most beautiful art is when you can take something and reduce it down to 4 lines, and it can tell a story that moves you. It informs us spiritually on a much deeper level.


Autumn’s sculptures in progress photographed by Kylie de Jesus

KDJ
Moving on to your #art912 exhibition Of One Mind, one of the larger themes in the exhibition is this concept of “oneness.” The idea that we are all connected. But the title, Of One Mind, was originally inspired by the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address, right? Can you talk about what that is for those who don’t know?

AG
It’s a Mohawk prayer said at big events to honor all life, but the words of the prayer can’t translate to the English language. It’s not just about everything being connected in oneness and in honor, it’s much deeper than that. And so, I don’t want to reduce it to this, but it’s basically about honoring all life, from the water, to the thunder, to the plants, and to all the beings that sustain us.

But, in terms of the exhibition, it’s not necessarily that the Thanksgiving Address itself is the inspiration, but that mind state, if that makes sense. The mind state that we are sustained by everything and that we are interdependent with nature. This Earth is a living being. She is a living being, and I think we’ve gotten really far away from that belief system.

Especially working with teenagers and working with people when I do my outreach, I see that we’re so connected, “cyberlinked,” to electronics and to Instagram, and to all these things. We can connect so quickly all over the world, yet people are feeling more isolated than ever in terms of human connection and connection to Mother Earth. There’s a lot of depression and higher high rates of suicide and things like that. Not to get into a negative place, but I think the point is to say that we’re all connected and that you are never alone. You are more than whatever you think you are. You’re a small part of the bigger picture.

KDJ
Hearing you speak further on this idea of oneness, it’s obvious that this mindset is something that you carry with you throughout your own personal journey, your outreach, and your artwork. So, how did the idea of your exhibition Of One Mind come about, and why did you decide to translate these ideas into a museum setting?

AG
Well, much of my belief system as a person is “Why not?” When you come here, I believe that we’re here for a reason: to elevate the planet. When we know our power and we know our purpose, we’re here to raise the vibration of one another, to heal, and to be here for generations.

We have a world that is hurting in a lot of ways, so my purpose has been to love others as much as I can. In the show, I want to shift consciousness and challenge the way we see things through this concept of oneness. The goal is to show people that we belong to this earth in a different way and that there’s a different way we could be living. I don’t expect everyone to adopt that, but I would love for people to start thinking about it. It would be cool if we could feed, encourage, and love one another and stop being so freaking competitive about things. I think that’s why I wanted to do this show with someone else. When the opportunity came to do the exhibition, I immediately knew I had to collab, because that’s the concept. I wanted to bring that merging of ideas for the for the very same concept of oneness.

KDJ
Yeah, and speaking a little more to that, Of One Mind is a collaboration between you and Alexis Javier (Aje). What inspired you to work with Aje?

To read interview with Of One Mind artist Alexis Javier, click here.

AG
Aje and I have known each other for a while and, without sounding corny, it was my first instinct. I think it’s because I see him as an agent out in the world always helping people and thinking of others. He co-founded Soy x Soy, [@soy_x_soy] which is a Latin and Indigenous art collective, and he just puts a lot of energy into other people, so I thought: “Well, I see both of us as these people just kind of floating around doing all this stuff, so maybe this would be a good way for us to come together and merge our values; maybe we can create oneness with our crazy little lives and our ways of floating around in the world.” I think, together, our work will speak to a bigger, more powerful message.

KDJ
And the exhibition is not just going to be a visual looking experience, but include interactive elements as well, right? Can you tell me more about what those are?

AG
I’ve been working in a museum setting for 11 years or something crazy like that, but I’ve also been creating art for forever. One thing I noticed a lot working with our community is that there are people who don’t feel welcome in the visual art world and that some people don’t even feel welcome walking into a museum. That is a huge deficit to us as a culture, so it’s been important for me to find ways to be more inclusive. I created a sculpture with my husband for the Savannah Center for Blind and Low Vision and have a really strong relationship with them, so often I’m thinking of the blind or the visually impaired in my work. There are so many things that people don’t take into consideration, so there are standards for how I want things to be. There are audio and tactile things we are incorporating into the exhibition, and we’re working with Maggie Meade, a blind visual artist, to have Braille as an element of the show as well.

I want to incorporate elements for people who experience the world differently. There’s nothing more frustrating than if you’re a tactile person that can’t touch. I want people to feel like they can play a little bit, or at least experience it in a relaxed way that’s accessible. Let’s take all the pretention out, because that’s not where I’m coming from. I want this to be a communal fostering of oneness, healing, and all that good stuff.


Red brass hand casting, photograph from the artist

KDJ
We’ve been talking about oneness a lot during this conversation, but I don’t think I’ve asked you about it directly. Can you break down the idea of oneness a little bit and explain what it means to you?

AG
Oneness is everything. It’s the concept that I am everything and you are everything; that I wear your face, and you wear mine; that nothing is disconnected; that the moon is the sun. Every duality is one. Even the things that feel separate like day and night are one. For me, when I incorporate this concept into my daily being, I think it makes me much more conscious of my choices, my impact, and my way of moving through the world.

I think it’s important to remember that we all have our will, our intentions, our plans, and our purpose, but there will always be the way of nature. It was here before us and it will be here after, and I think when you tap into that, there’s humility within that. We are all just little specks. Yes, I’m a freaking speck, but I want to be a gorgeous, shiny, glittery speck. Every single little speck is magic, it’s precious, and we mindlessly walk by miracles every day because we forget that we’re all connected. We get so stuck in our head that we forget to take it all in. Like how freaking gorgeous is this life? I just want to remind people that we belong to one another and that we belong to this beautiful, amazing, Earth.

KDJ
So, wrapping this all up, how do you want this show to affect visitors and the community of Savannah? What do you want them to walk away with?

AG
I want them to know how freaking awesome they are. That they’re perfect, and special, and that they belong. Whatever got them to the point of walking into the museum, whatever led them to that little gallery, or those terraces, or even what led them to Savannah is exactly where they were supposed to be, and I’m extremely humbled and grateful that they walked into that space to share their energy with me. I just feel extreme gratitude to be able to share a little bit of my feelings, expressions, and thoughts about life with them.

I also want them to know that they are part of the exhibition. Their energy is co-creating it right now, even if they haven’t seen it yet. And when they come, I hope they feel a little bit of connection and, even if it’s not their cup of tea artistically, that they are inspired by some of the concepts that maybe make them think differently. I want people to see how beautiful their lives are and enjoy being connected to this beautiful planet that we have. To protect one another and protect it; create more safe spaces; create more diversity; just be more inclusive.

I’m so thankful for the opportunity to be able to share these ideas and my heart, and I’m so excited for the people who come because they’re the co-creators, they’re the ones making it happen. Without them, I might create the work, but it wouldn’t be as much fun as it would to have people share it with me.


Photograph from the artist

For more of Autumn’s work, check out @autumn.gary.art on social media!

Related to this Article

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exhibition

#art912 Of One Mind

Jepson Center
Of One Mind is a collaboration between local artists Autumn Gary and Alexis Javier around the theme of “oneness," an approach outlined in the Ohèn:ton Karihwatéhkwen, or the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address. In this invocation, participants express gratitude for life-sustaining forces and elements, effectively recognizing humans' inseparable bond to the natural and spiritual worlds.
exhibition

#art912 Of One Mind

Jepson Center
Of One Mind is a collaboration between local artists Autumn Gary and Alexis Javier around the theme of “oneness," an approach outlined in the Ohèn:ton Karihwatéhkwen, or the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address. In this invocation, participants express gratitude for life-sustaining forces and elements, effectively recognizing humans' inseparable bond to the natural and spiritual worlds.
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