Author: Joey Yates Editor's Note: We're excited to start this new series, Notes from the Curator, providing more in-depth commentary about our collection and our past exhibitions. First up is a discussion of a few works from our current Summer Wheat: Heavy Lifting exhibition.
Summer Wheat's subjects are often engaged in activities that combine survival and self sufficiency with humor and self care.
Two works in particular, "Heavy Lifting" and "Fish Tears," could be particularly good representations for our current moment, especially in light of the grocery store clerks and others who suddenly find themselves on the front lines of this crisis
"Heavy Lifting" presents a group of women carrying fish in a large net, the catch of the day, engaging in teamwork and cooperation in their common goal to help and provide for the group. They are sharing and taking pride in what they can contribute to ensuring sustainability.
"Fish Tears" portrays a woman in red releasing a stream of yellow fish-shaped tears. While she appears to be sad, perhaps about her loss on coming up empty after a long day on the hunt, the image can also signify bounty. She is captured in a style a bit reminiscent of an iconic queen from ancient Sumeria or Egypt, particularly with how Wheat has painted the eyes. Big eyes were a prominent feature in ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian devotional figures and may have something to do with how idols are to be seen and worshiped. The fish is also a common ancient symbol for fruitfulness and abundance. This can be traced back to the ichthys, a 2000-year-old Greek symbol adopted by early Christians that now often serves as a reference to the Holy Eucharist or Christ’s feeding of the multitude with seven loaves of bread and fishes. Another possible religious connection comes from Ancient Egypt and the fish-goddess known as Hatmehit, her name translating as Foremost of Fish or Chief of Fish. She was often depicted with a fish crown on her head and was known as a goddess of life and protection.
Summer Wheat's image is a powerful update to this idea and a much needed icon for these times of uncertainty, but also hope for prosperity in the near future.
View more of Wheat's work at www.shulamitnazarian.com/artist/summer-wheat/.