By: Maria Manuela
We practice traditions to reconnect with our natural identities. When an older woman teaches a younger woman to master a traditional craft, the younger woman gains a piece of the past, and brings it with her to the present. As we walk the same paths and repeat the same gestures as our ancestors, we travel through time.
Joanna Keane Lopez is an enjarradora — a traditional woman plasterer — painter and installation artist who learned to work with adobe the directly-passed-down-way; from older women who welcomed her into apprenticeships.
“Growing up in New Mexico, I have always been around adobe; it’s something that’s close to my heart,” Joanna says. “It is our own environment being built up from the ground, and sheltering us. It’s really palpable — it’s something you can feel, and you can smell.”
She uses adobe bricks and mirrors to build futuristic architectural installations. She produces walls that curve in wavy forms; others appear in double, facing each other to form a circle in the center. The mirrors in her work are symbols of fragmentation and wholeness in regards to identity, but also serve as a means to enrich her minimal materials.
Everything Joanna uses, she pulls from nature. She’s included fabric in some of her work, dyed with cochineal, an insect that nests in prickly pear cacti. Other times she’s added mica to her adobe, making it sparkle in the sunlight.
The artist muses on the similarities between her adobe structures and the work of ceramicists: “It’s almost like being a ceramicist in a really large way; instead of using a kiln, the sun fires the bricks and you have these functional clay sculptures.”
“Growing up in New Mexico, I have always been around adobe; it’s something that’s close to my heart. It is our own environment being built up from the ground, and sheltering us. It’s really palpable — it’s something you can feel, and you can smell.”
While pursuing a BFA at the University of New Mexico, Joanna sought the advice and mentorship of Carole Crews and Anita Rodríguez, both lifelong enjarradoras living in Taos. In 2014, she spent time with Carole — who wrote a book on earth-based building titled Clay Culture: Plasters, Paints and Preservation — learning to fill cracks and preserve ancient adobe. She practiced her hands on Carole’s home, which is painted in a clay slip called alíz, and helped mud plaster the San Francisco de Assisi Church, which the community of Ranchos de Taos comes together to do once every year.
In 2016, as she prepared for her thesis project, Joanna apprenticed with Anita. She spent time in Taos with the seasoned enjarradora, learning where to find caliche — a lighter, cream-colored clay — and how to process it into the fine alíz mixture.
“Through those experiences with Anita and Carole, I was really inspired and I incorporated it into my own installations,” she says. “It’s definitely been rewarding to understand and practice the authentic traditional adobe techniques.”
Since graduating from UNM in 2016, Joanna has created numerous adobe installations. In 2018, she was commissioned to build a site-specific installation for The Harwood Arts Center. Titled Expanding Sequences, the pink-hued wall features mirrored vertical panels and curves in on itself, creating a semicircular shape. At the right time of day, the refractions from the mirrors merge in the circle’s center to make a star-shaped light fragment on the earth. It was recently revamped and made a permanent fixture at the arts center.
Also in 2018, Joanna received funding from the Fulcrum Fund 516 ARTS — made possible by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts — to create an installation project titled Resolana: Public Art + Performance.
Resolana is a term meaning a sunny side of a wall, or a place where the sun shines. Traditionally, it refers to a gathering place where people come together to talk and share ideas.
“I wanted to give women a space and a platform to share and to perform,” she says. “So, I hosted four women who came together and did performances that ranged from singing to shadow puppetry.”
The white wall of Resolana bows slightly inward, creating a mirrored backdrop and natural stage for the performers. Nizhonniya Austin, Rae Red (Rae Anna Hample), Kateri López and Jazmyn Crosby all took to the reflective stage and performed original works. “That was one of my favorite projects because it incorporated other women. It was powerful and very meaningful to create a safe and supportive space.”
“I wanted to give women a space and a platform to share and to perform, so, I hosted four women who came together and did performances that ranged from singing to shadow puppetry.”
Joanna’s adobe bridges the past and future. She combines tradition with modernity, bejeweling her handmade adobe structures with pieces of mirrors, imbuing them with a visionary feel. Admiring one of her walls, you see beyond the earth that makes it, and into the sky and desert surroundings. You notice your reflection gazing back at you — and if you know Joanna’s story, you may think about the traditions you’ve learned, and how you carry them with you.
About the author: Maria Manuela is a writer based in Santa Fe, New Mexico where she was born and raised. She focuses on highlighting artists, designers and creative locals in her work which has been featured in publications like New Mexico Magazine, Good Mood, and THE Magazine. She curates and authors the arts section of UNUM, highlighting women who work in creative professions. She is also in the process of writing a short story collection of magical realism folk stories based in the Southwest.