Artist shares Tongva culture through her work

The Tongva people were the original inhabitants of the land we now call Los Angeles. Their words appear on our map: Topanga, Cucamonga, Cahuenga. But their cultural presence has largely been erased from public memory. Artist Mercedes Dorame is one of Tongva’s many descendants, and she spoke to LA Times Today about how her work sheds light on Tongva culture.

The Tongva people have lived in Southern California for thousands of years. They lived from Malibu to Orange County, as well as the southern Channel Islands. Dorame tries to expose indigenous culture through her work.

“Like many of the tribes of California, we had to put things back together,” Dorame said. “We’ve really had to take care of the culture in a way that’s about reviving. A lot of the work I do is around these star stones. These are specific to our tribal area. They found them in Los Angeles, in the north of Orange County I wanted to kind of empower myself to recreate them… As we move through Los Angeles and you think a little bit about how much is paved in. Just below us there is so much history and existence​ ​and cultural memories.’

Dorame explained that her creative process has changed over the years. She shared what she looks for when she brings her camera to take pictures.

“A lot of times when I’m taking my pictures, I just put a bunch of stuff in a bag and take my camera and take my tripod and go somewhere,” Dorame said. “That’s important, but I don’t visualize anything beforehand. I work with a lot of what’s found and really pay attention to seasonal shifts and seasonal species.”

Dorame’s work is rooted in research and historical accuracy to pave a path for future native artists.

“I think as I move through my artistic practice, it’s always heavy research. I always do research, but I feel like my focus now is on creating space in the future. I feel the responsibility and weight so that the generation that comes after me doesn’t have to have the same conversation because natives are so objectified or dissociated,” she said.

Dorame’s work is currently on display at the Huntington Library as part of the long-running Borderlands exhibition. She is also working on a new installation in collaboration with two other Tongva artists at the Catalina Museum for Art and History.

Watch the full interview above.

Watch “LA Times Today” at 7pm and 10pm Monday through Friday on Spectrum News 1 and the Spectrum News app.

Leave a Comment