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The butterfly effect: Ramona Sakiestewa reworks an old puzzle

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Posted: Friday, May 16, 2014 5:00 am

Earlier this year, Eight Modern, a gallery with a focus on modern and contemporary art, merged with Tai Gallery, dealers in traditional Japanese bamboo art and contemporary photography. The inaugural exhibition at the new Tai Modern is Ramona Sakiestewa: Tangram Butterfly and Other Shapes. Sakiestewa is primarily known for her abstract tapestries but also works in painting and lithography as well as making architectural elements in wood, glass, and metal. The show comprises new works on paper, including several images based on the traditional Chinese tangram puzzle. The exhibit opens with a reception on Friday, May 16.

The tangram puzzle, possibly introduced to Europe by traders in the 19th century, is believed to have originated during the Song Dynasty (960-1279). The puzzle includes seven geometric shapes — five triangles, a rhomboid, and a square — that can be arranged to depict abstract compositions as well as objects such as animals, houses, and people. The tangram has intrigued Sakiestewa for years. “I bought this book by Joost Elffers,” Sakiestewa told Pasatiempo, referring to Elffers’ book Tangram: The Ancient Chinese Puzzle, co-written with Michael Schuyt. “It was a little paperback. I still have it. With it were the little plastic pieces of the tangram. In the early ‘90s I went to Japan, and I met some people who were also interested in tangram. When I came back, I reread the book. It was kind of a parlor game before the turn of the 20th century. When you see the shapes you can make with these seven pieces, they’re very modernist in a way and very architectural, all of which is appealing to me. There’s a simplicity in the images. You get these strangely graphic but impressionistic forms.” 

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