Sunday, October 10, 2021

Coming Home: Unearthing Indigenous History at ICA North

By Lonnie Burstein Hewitt. Photos by Maurice Hewitt.

An indoor/outdoor view from the main gallery: Christine Howard Sandoval’s  Surveillance Mound—like a surveyor’s tripod looking out on the SoCal landscape—and one of her wall hangings: Angle of Integration.

Closeup of Surveillance Mound.

This month, ICA North—the former Lux Art Institute—is giving new life to the long-buried history of the indigenous people of California, who inhabited the area for thousands of years before the missionaries marched in.

Christine Howard Sandoval, an artist of mixed indigenous, Mexican, and Spanish ancestry who received her art education in New York City and is currently teaching interdisciplinary art in Vancouver, has for some time been trying to unearth the complicated history of California’s indigenous people, including her own. By digging deep into mission archives, she is tracing the migration of her northern California Chalon Ohlone ancestors, piecing together the story of her community and her family, and effectively coming home to California.

Following the missionaries’ arrival in the late 18th century and the Gold Rush up north in the mid-19th century, California’s indigenous people were dislocated, stripped of their identities, and often killed. Treaties were broken, and they were subjected to countless indignities, including forced labor and virtual eradication from California history. But what Howard Sandoval found embedded in the archives is a wealth of information on the language, traditions, and plant knowledge of her indigenous ancestors.

In her examination of mission architecture, she noted that the arches commonly used in entrances and passageways had the same shape as indigenous mounds and woven baskets, as well as the wooden hobbles that were commonly placed between the legs of defiant Mission Indians. In her ICA North exhibit, she uses the arch as a passageway into the somber truths of indigenous history. 

False Arch—the span of an opening (adobe mud and graphite on paper).

A large, impressively textured piece—120 x 52 inches.

To create the pieces during her month-long residency here, she hand-mixed adobe mud that she made from soil, clay, sand and water, using glue as a binder. She would do a drawing on paper, marking out negative spaces with masking tape, then covering it with adobe, removing the tape before the adobe dried to reveal the final artwork.

Document Mound. Application for Enrollment with the Indians of the State of California (Inkjet print on vinyl tape, adobe mud and steel—including strips of paper from a copy of the document)

An interesting factoid, shared by Guusje Sanders, ICA’s associate curator, who took us through the exhibit: adobe was not used by indigenous people in California, but was introduced by the Spanish for the building of their missions. 

For the Transportation of Water. Water was carried long distances by indigenous people for construction of the missions.

In her artist statement online, Christine Howard Sandoval writes: “Artistically, research drives my ideas and ideas determine aesthetics… I seek long-term engagement with places and their people as a means of exploring my own self-identity that is intimately formed by land and community.”

Be sure to get up close to admire the texture of her pieces and consider the history behind them. And on your way out, enjoy the lovely landscape, and check out the installation at the street-level Education Pavilion, created by artist Hans Baumann in collaboration with young tribal people who live near the Salton Sea.


Christine Howard Sandoval: Coming Home

On view through Oct 31 at ICA North.

Thursday-Sunday, 12-5 p.m. Free admission.

ICA San Diego North

1550 S El Camino Real, Encinitas


Special Event: Art Exploration

Drinks and discussion of the exhibit on October 28, 5-6 p.m. Free.


Lonnie Burstein Hewitt is an award-winning author/lyricist/playwright who has written about arts and lifestyle for the La Jolla Light and other local media for over a dozen years. You can reach her at

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