Durango artist Minna Jain was attending a sustainable agriculture conference in Albuquerque last November when speaker and Pulitzer-Prize winning poet Gary Snyder said something that struck her.
“He brought up this word that I hadn’t heard before, querencia, and the idea around it of young farmers, doers, makers and activists really working to build a home and find a home,” she said. “Querencia means home in that deep sense ... to want and to seek a home, but also a haunt. And I love that.”
Jain has spent a lot of her life thinking about the concept of home and where she belongs. The daughter of first-generation immigrants – her mother is from Finland and her father is from India – Jain grew up in Minnesota feeling the tug of her ancestors from across the ocean and always felt a little displaced.
So, after learning the concept of querencia, she chased after it, exploring the ideas of home and haunts through a new body of work that she’s been creating for the last year.
An exhibit of that work, called “Haunt,” will open Friday at Studio &.
“Haunt” is a collection of arresting acrylic paintings, ghostly cyanotypes and fantastical wearable sculptures. With lights, wooden boxes, traditional paintings and creative use of printing, the show is a multimedia examination of the people, souls and places that make up home.
Jain injects her personal definition of querencia into the show with representations of real people and locations, but the concept of grasping to physical and emotional connections to find home is one that is universally readable. And by tackling the double meaning of haunt – a favorite haunt or being haunted by the past – she gives “Haunt” a depth of meaning and layered nuances. It’s a show that speaks to spirituality, ancestry, magic, animal instincts and cultural fracturing.
“In a nutshell, the show to me is about finding home in body and place,” Jain said, adding that after eight years in Durango, she feels like the land, culture and history of this town are home.
“Haunt” has three distinct components. There are acrylic paintings of Jain’s ancestors – striking portraits of faces and hands, but not bodies, emerging from pools of color. One is an Indian auntie who died as a child and who was said to have been a seer. Another is of Jain’s childhood nanny, a woman from New Orleans who helped shape the person Jain became. And a third, a woman whose wide cheekbones and lake-like eyes are striking, represents a combination of her Finnish ancestors – the Saami people.
“With the paintings, I focused on creating depictions of my ancestors, the people I feel really tied to who aren’t here, as a way to kind of bring them here for myself,” Jain said.
The second component, a series of cyanotypes (photographic blueprints) are ghostly images of blue ink printed on white cotton. Jain arrived at them through a multi-step process of alternative printmaking that entailed drawing on prints, experimenting with cyanotype chemicals and using computer manipulation. The result is a collection of surreal scenes inhabited by delicate, ghostlike shapes.
The final component, wearable sculpture, incorporates the cyanotype techniques along with fabric, yarn, Plexiglas, LED lights and wood. Two models will be wearing the pieces at the opening.
“This show is about this idea of exploring home and creating home,” Jain said. “So much of that has to do with what we feel in our bodies, how we move, what we wear ... and how uncomfortable that can be, too.”
Jain, whose art career has taken her into the realms of photography, printmaking, painting and illustration, said she finds wearable sculpture an exciting medium.
“I particularly like the idea of taking art off the walls and onto something that moves it,” she said. “It just gives it new life.”
Even when the life in those pieces speaks to things that are no longer here.