Politics of the Secondhand: Natani Notah

Over the past week I have continued to work on a series of sculptures that transform used metal mixing bowls into faux pottery. So far the process has consisted of first layering gesso onto the surface and lifting, carving, and peeling away certain parts to expose the stainless steel underneath. The next steps have been to sand down the edges where the the gesso ends and the metal begins. Conceptually I am interested in this line serving as a metaphor for the moment where two distinctly different things can come together and coexist, thus resulting in a more beautiful whole.

Simultaneously I have been thinking about moments in history or nature where a similar friction takes place, however this resulting in conflict or tension. For instance the place where an earthquake is most likely to occur being a fault line. This line or fracture in the ground occurs when the earth’s tectonic plates shift. Although a natural phenomenon in one context, this idea becomes relevant when I think about racism and violence towards communities of color in the United States today.


The foundation of this country was built on the genocide of Native peoples and the effects of this are still very present in our respective communities. My ancestors survived horrific events and it is my goal to use my artwork as a platform to spark generative dialogue about how this has impacted our identity. In every step of the process I see my actions as inherently political. For example the impulse to use secondhand bowls speaks to my personal desire to continue to become more sustainable and conscious about what I purchase and why. Whereas the layering of gesso and paint aims to make these industrial, machine made objects more valuable by introducing the artist’s hand.

While working on these bowls I have come to see them as flesh-like vessels that speak about and against the exploitation of Native people and culture, more specifically that of Diné (Navajo) aesthetics. During the remainder of my time in the ISC residency at Grounds for Sculpture (GFS), I aim to further develop this project by thinking through the politics of the secondhand (materially, physically, and emotionally) and how the installation and documentation will aid in the viewers’ understanding of the concept.

By Natani Notah

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