North and South, 2018, oil on linen, 180×180 cm
Esteban Cabeza de Baca
Born San Ysidro, California (US), 1985
The depiction of a landscape, perspectivally framed and organised, suggests a position from which to view the world. Moreover, the very grasping and ordering of the land on a canvas suggests a possession of the earth, as much as control over and knowledge of it. Such visual representations of the land support colonialism and imperialism through the creation of an optical sense of ownership and entitlement. As such, the purported tabula rasa that Europeans encountered when they set foot on the American continent is deeply supported by art history. In addition, art and other disciplines used knowledge and forms that stem from Indigenous iconography, without properly crediting its sources. In this sense, landscape painting could be perceived as the creation of idyllic illusions in which the original inhabitants of the depicted landscapes have been consciously erased.
Esteban Cabeza de Baca re-engages with Indigenous knowledge, beliefs, and iconography to reinstate their value in art history. To do so, he reimagines abstract landscape painting by subtly referring to cave paintings and pre-Columbian mythologies – as well as contemporary borders, topographies, pipelines, and resource extraction. Cabeza de Baca reconnects directly to the landscape by using site-specific soil in his sculptures, and colors of the Western United States as the main pigment for his paintings. His practice aims to decolonize the landscape and emphasise its role as a social political signifier within the ongoing aftermath of colonisation, forced displacement, and state-sanctioned oppression. By reshaping and reworking the landscape, Cabeza de Baca dissects and dismantles painting and its history as he reclaims both the medium and the soil itself – on his own terms.