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History Made Present

This summer’s ArtWalk features two important artworks, by Nanibah Chacon and Mercedes Dorame, at El Segundo Public Library.

By Jenny Gardner

Portals to Memory mural at El Segundo Public Library
Portals to Memory by Nanibah Chacon with input from Mercedes Dorame and the El Segundo community

"Any time a new perspective can be shared and celebrated, it’s an enriching experience for all.”

So said Nanibah Chacon, the Diné and Chicana artist behind “‘..Portals to Memory..,’” the new mural in the Sue Carter Friends of the Library Community Room in the El Segundo Public Library, which was created in collaboration with Tongva artist Mercedes Dorame and members of the community via a public listening session.

The mural incorporates familiar El Segundo imagery—such as waves and blue butterflies—with the depiction of elements of culture from the Gabrielino Tongva, the indigenous people of the greater Los Angeles area. Among these motifs is the cog stone, a stone carved into a cog-like shape commonly found at Tongva historical sites. This combination of iconography brings the Tongva’s historical presence in this region into our contemporary times.

“Nanibah and I both have the impulse of making the culture present in the present,” Dorame said. “Sometimes there’s this idea that the indigenous people are of the past or a historical thing. And yes, the population was decimated—but it’s not gone.”

"Mapping Tovaangar" at El Segundo Public Library
Mercedes Dorame puts finishing touches on "Mapping Tovaangar"

Dorame also created the debut installation for the library’s new Room of Requirement (the space is named for the fictional Hogwarts room), which will feature rotating exhibits. Titled “Mapping Tovaangar,” it features a map of original place names for the area, Tovaangar being the Tongva name for greater Los Angeles. Some, such as Maliwu, Topanga, and Kaweenga, are similar or identical to current place names. Replica cog stones anchor red yarn that shoots through the map in various locations that are meaningful to Dorame’s family and community.

These projects are the culmination of a lengthy planning process between the city’s Arts and Culture Advisory Committee and El Segundo Public Library. Kristen Dorsey, a local artist and citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, introduced the idea for the mural when she joined the committee almost two years ago. Through discussions with the library and its director, Melissa McCollum, the mural found a home in the community room.

Its painting, which took place over Memorial Day weekend and included interactive workshops for the public, coincided with programming for a Book to Action grant from the California State Library. The grant gives selected libraries funding to feature a book and create community events around it. The El Segundo Public Library chose the novel There There by Tommy Orange, which depicts various experiences of contemporary life for indigenous people in Oakland. In addition to the mural painting and Dorame’s installation, the library hosted a discussion of the book led by a professor from LMU.

Pictured: Community members speak with artist Nanibah Chacon and help paint the mural during a workshop offered at El Segundo Public Library in May.

“Mapping Tovaangar” is open to the public during regular library hours. “‘..Portals to Memory..’” is open for viewing at select times; please contact the library for further information. Both artworks will be featured during the El Segundo Art Walk on Thursday, June 20, from 5-9pm.

Left to right: Library Director Melissa McCollum; President, Library Board of Trustees Sara Whelan; El Segundo jewelry designer, "Matriarchs" curator, and Arts & Culture Advisory Committee member Kristen Dorsey each speak at the unveiling of "Portals to Memory" on May 29, 2019.

This story appears in our June 2019 issue.

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