Santa Fe New Mexican



VIRGIL ORTIZ is creating an army of Indigenous superheroes. The public will officially meet them in a half dozen upcoming museum installations, this year and next, but Ortiz has been seeding them into the timeline for more than two decades. “Every two years, I release a new character in a gallery show or a museum exhibition. That helps me to trademark, copyright and register all of my intellectual property,” said Ortiz, who is from Cochiti Pueblo and began making pottery as a teenager. Ortiz's work has evolved over the years into more sculptural pieces, many of which are masks and busts adorned with horns, tusks and headwear. His newest characters are the Recon Watchmen, armed with impenetrable war shields and magical headdresses. He continues to use the traditional coil and scrape method of construction for his sculptures, and his color palette and designs all come from Cochiti. Ortiz has successfully expanded into fashion design, photography, video and other mediums, continually growing his studio team of artist-collaborators who teach him new skills. All of this is in service of his ultimate goal, which is to make a big-budget Hollywood movie about the historically rooted science-fiction universe he's created. “Revolt 1680/2180 brings together 19 groups of characters that represent the 19 pueblos that are left in New Mexico today,” he said. “They're time travelers, returning to the era of the Pueblo Revolt, in 1680, to aid our ancestors. Their headdresses allow them to communicate between all different time dimensions.” Ortiz has always gravitated to science-fiction stories, from the original Star Wars trilogy to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which includes licensed merchandise like T-shirts and action figures. Ortiz plans to create something similar for Revolt. Marvel story origins are in comic books and other media outside the movies, whereas Ortiz has made the fine art world his testing ground. He's learned how to make silicon masks of his clay busts so that he can outfit models from head to toe and then capture them on video to bring the Revolt narrative to life. He uses CGI to put the characters into such natural environments as the Bisti Badlands in New Mexico and the Paint Mines in Colorado. He compares Revolt to the African futurism of Black Panther and says this is the storytelling genre that contemporary mainstream culture understands. “You can call it Indigenous futurism, which is what I was calling it 20 years ago, but we want to figure out more terminology. It's way bigger than me; it's about telling the truth. We're thriving after surviving the attempt at stamping us out of history.” He's talking generally about colonialism and specifically about the 1680 Pueblo Revolt, which occurred in what is now downtown Santa Fe, where more than 40 Pueblo communities came together to drive out the Spanish invaders. “It was successful as America's first revolution, but people don't call it that because of the bloodshed, the genocide that happened here, to our people,” Ortiz said. “My characters come from the future to collect any remaining clay artifacts, songs, traditions and ceremonies, and take them to 2180 to store and protect.” Pottery at Cochiti is a dying art, Ortiz said, because most people don't have time to dig their own clay and learn the skills required to make a living as an artist. They have jobs, families and other responsibilities. But he comes from a family of potters and learned growing up that “the more you take care of the clay, the more she'll take care of you. To make a living as an artist, you have to have something that's marketable. It's why I'm here on earth — to help tell the story. It helps me move forward. I'm aiming as high as I can.”