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Red Dirt Rug Monument | 2017

Iterations of this installation have been temporarily installed in: Oklahoma City, OK; Kansas City, MO; Overland Park, KS; Grand Rapids,MI ; Roanoke VA, Santa Fe, NM; Tulsa, OK.

Loose red Oklahoma soil, imprinted with modified shoe soles


" Sweep it under the rug, that history. Cover it in beauty, in symmetry. Lay over it a veneer of gentility. Say: we are all kind and decent people here. We are civilized. We bring our fine carpets rolled and tucked and carried in wagons from Iowa and Nebraska, from Texas and Pennsylvania and the Old Country. We are not murderers. We are not thieves. We remember, yes, but only what we wish to remember. We do not choose to remember what lies beneath.


Rena Detrixhe sifts our red soil meticulously; she picks out stones and shards and trash, removes our imperfections, refines, refines again, makes from dirt and clay the finest, silkiest dust. She creates a gorgeous surface, smooth, enticing; you want to touch it. She cuts the soles of shoes, stamps the patterns, and in so doing she creates a map. A carpet, yes, a trump l’oeil rug, but also a deep map of landscape and history, of territory and place. Her geometric patterns might decorate a Kiowa warrior’s shield. The flowers and lacelike patterns could be lifted from a pioneer woman’s needlework sampler. In settler days, women used to sweep their yards using homemade brush-brooms, creating fanciful, inviting patterns in the pounded dust. That story is here too, and also its worst extremity: those years when the wind blew fierce and the dirt roiled skyward, descended in a blanket of black dust, rust-red dust, and yellow, ochre, gray, tan, brown, choking our babies, silting into our lungs. The artist takes our stories, puts them into her rhythms, her symmetry, her patterns, sifting, making fine, making pure. She shows us what beauty lies upon the surface. She asks us to seek what darker truths lie underneath. The act is meditative, the work ephemeral. Like the sand paintings of the Dine, it can be medicinal, healing. Like those of Tibetan monks or celebrants of Dia de los Muertos, it may be spiritual, too. The act says: We are here now. One day we won’t be. The earth is ours now. One day it won’t be. What shall we carry with us but memory? What shall we leave behind when we go? "

Excerpt from an essay by Rilla Askew, featured in Ephemera at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art. Full text available here.

Images: Mark Andrus

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