Who speaks and who is silenced? What histories or facets of a culture do we privilege and why? How do we acknowledge our history while also rewriting, repairing, and moving beyond our past trauma? Los Angeles-based artist and filmmaker Mariah Garnett (b. 1980) asks these questions and others in the first U.S. solo museum presentation of her work, Mariah Garnett: Dreamed This Gateway. The exhibition features new and recent operatic videos, including a multi-channel installation commissioned by CAMH. Working in collaboration with experimental vocalist Holland Andrews, Cairo-based documentary playwright Raphaël Khouri, and professional opera singers Christopher Paul Craig and Breanna Sinclairé, Garnett has created a new body of work inspired by an archive of materials related to the enigmatic and remarkable life and artistic output of her great-great-aunt, Ruth Lynda Deyo (1884–1960).
A spiritualist, synesthete, and composer, Deyo moved to Cairo in 1924, where she began to have visions transmitted by spirits. Deyo meticulously transcribed her visions and communications, as well as her political, social, and financial anxieties, in a series of diaries, eventually composing an opera based on the lives of Egyptian pharaohs Akhenaten and Tutankhamen. These documents, as well as conversations between Garnett and her Cairo-based collaborators, provide a point of departure for a new body of work exploring unexpected and poignant connections between spirituality, trauma, and art making through the artist’s queer lens. Reckoning with her family’s complicity in extractive systems of colonial oppression and cultural appropriation, specifically Deyo’s fetishization of Ancient Egyptian culture, Garnett and her collaborators weave together a rich and fantastical vision of individual and collective trauma and transcendence within the context of our contemporary political and ideological landscape.
About the Artist
Mariah Garnett holds an MFA from California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) in Santa Clarita, California and a BA from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. A 2019 Guggenheim Fellow in Film & Video, her work has been exhibited both nationally and internationally at institutions including the Eli Marsh Gallery, Amherst College, Massachusetts; Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery; Metropolitan Arts Centre, Belfast, UK; New Museum, New York, New York; SFMoMA, California; REDCAT, Los Angeles, California; the 2014 Made in LA Hammer Biennial, Los Angeles, California, and the Brooklyn Museum, New York, among many others. Garnett has received numerous awards and honors, including a 2016 Artadia Los Angeles Award. In 2021, her film collaboration with Dynasty Handbag, Weirdo Night, was featured in Sundance Film Festival New Frontiers. She currently teaches at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
Image caption: Mariah Garnett, The Pow’r of Life is Love, 2021. Multi-channel video installation, 4k video with sound, 13:00 minutes. Courtesy the artist and Commonwealth and Council, Los Angeles. Installation view at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 2022. Photo by Sean Fleming.
Contemporary Arts Museum of Houston is funded in part by the City of Houston through the Houston Arts Alliance.