TUCSON, AZ—MOCA Tucson presents While hissing, an exhibition by artist, performer, and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Raven Chacon that celebrates sound as a medium for resistance and connection. Through video installation, graphic scores, and performance, Chacon amplifies Indigenous women’s voices, centering their leadership and vision both as carriers of memory and authors of culture.
The installation features For Zitkála-Šá (2018), a collection of thirteen graphic scores dedicated to contemporary Indigenous women making music or other expressive cultural contributions, spotlighting artists like Joy Harjo, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and Laura Ortman. The series is a tribute to Zitkála-Šá, a Yankton Dakota composer, writer, poet, activist, and teacher who wrote The Sun Dance Opera in 1913, which is considered the first American Indian opera. Chacon conceptualizes these scores as portraits, composed of variations of lines, dots, shapes, and symbols, accompanied by poetic written instructions. Each score can be interpreted and performed by their namesake and others, Chacon writes: “Everyone who encounters this set of scores is invited to perform them, to better understand where they have been and where they are headed, and to consider all the sites of conflict they are placed between.”
The exhibition’s title refers to the instructions for performing Chacon’s score for flute and breath dedicated to Barbara Croall, acclaimed Odawa First Nation composer and musician. MOCA will commission and present a new set of prints of the thirteen scores and stage performances of selected scores in collaboration with local musicians in Tucson.
While Chacon’s graphic scores resonate within the imagination, enlivened periodically by performances, the artist’s three-channel video installation Three Songs (2021) are focused on voice and instrument. Filmed on Navajo, Cherokee, and Seminole lands, the videos depict three Indigenous women—Sage Bond (Diné), Jehnean Washington (Yuchi), and Mary Ann Emarthle (Seminole)—each playing a snare drum and singing in her language about the history of the land. Their songs tell stories of sites where a battle took place, or violence or displacement occurred, such as the Navajo Long Walk and the Trail of Tears. Today these lands remain contested and the films bear witness to past and present injustice.
Together, For Zitkála-Šá and Three Songs use sound—imagined, recorded, and live—to create a space for each woman’s individual contributions to resound. Chacon creates a multidimensional tribute that amplifies stories of survival, resistance, and creativity while opening up new channels for listening.
Raven Chacon: While hissing is organized by Laura Copelin, Deputy Director and Co-Chief Curator and Julio César Morales, Executive Director and Co-Chief Curator, with assistance from Alexis Wilkinson, Assistant Curator.