In her stunning work, Destiny Arianna pulls deeply from her Chappaquiddick Wampanoag ancestry through her great-grandmother Grace Holman, also known as Swan Song, who was born and raised on the Island. Arianna, who has been coming to the Vineyard every summer since she was born, attests to how much Holman has been and remains an influence on her work. And her exhibition, “Beauty in Remembrance,” is a tribute to her ancestor who lived not far from the Oak Bluffs library where it is on view.
Arianna has been creating art since she was very young. “It was something I always did as a form of expression. Where words didn’t make sense, art always did for me,” she explains. Interestingly, it was Arianna’s rebellion against her formal art training at Bowdoin College that initiated her current path.
“I grew a lot there, but it was also very challenging, because as a Black and indigenous woman, I felt like I wasn’t represented in a lot of the ways I was being taught in how to render people,” Arianna says. It was hard for her at first. “I grew very emotional. I had teachers telling me how I had to convey a self-portrait,” the artist remembers. “But I was looking at it and saying, This does not look like me. I’m a brown-skinned girl. I have dark hair and skin; a dark complexion. I didn’t know how to render that in pencil.” When Arianna sought out help, she wasn’t getting the answers she needed, which propelled her into a path of self-teaching: “To take the extra time to learn how to depict myself and people who looked like me. Getting that skill was really amazing, and something beautiful grew out of that.”
Arianna’s striking monochromatic self-portrait in oil and with a single gold leaf earring demonstrates her artistic mastery. Her pose is powerful and beatific. She glows from within, carrying her heritage. The portrait of her brother, painted from above as he looks down out of the picture frame, is important to Arianna because he too is carrying the history and culture of the family for future generations to remember and take pride in. She says, “That’s something my mom has done her whole life, and my nana as well. There were times when my nana had to mask who she was because it wasn’t acceptable to identify as indigenous in this country. Later in her life, she was able to fully embody that, and be a proud indigenous woman and watch her granddaughter and great-grands be proud of something she once had to hide. I think that’s remarkable and beautiful itself.”
Arianna says of the show’s title, “It’s really about pride and the pride we have in remembering. I come from survivors. I come from a history of people who were put down for so long. People whose history this country has tried to erase.” But she is dedicated to unearthing the beauty of this heritage: “I think a lot of time we focus on the negative aspects of our violent past and history. I do address that in some of my pieces, but I think for this show, I want it to be celebratory of my culture.”
Arianna also works in photography and collage. In a series, which includes “Not Your Vacation Home, No. 1,” she is looking at land and legacy as the focus. Arianna says, “It came to me because Martha’s Vineyard is typically associated with a playground for presidents. And rich people always go and forget about the locals and those who have lived there and been displaced. I think it’s important to strip it down to its history.” In this piece, Arianna reclaims the Island. She overlays an old photo of a Wampanoag woman with an enigmatic countenance on top of a historical postcard of Martha’s Vineyard depicting the iconic Edgartown lighthouse, although transforming its base by describing it with paper that carries a reproduction of the Wampanoag Bible. Thus, the work pays tribute as well to the importance of the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project, which is bringing the tribe’s ancestral language back to life for generations to come after more than 150 years of dormancy. This series forces us to reconsider the Island’s history, which is too often overlooked.
Throughout, Arianna uses the rich culture she grew up in and its relation to the violent history of her ancestry to reconstruct a narrative of beauty, resilience, and survival. While particular to her own experience, Arianna’s work can set us all to consider who we are and where we came from.
“Beauty in Remembrance” on view at the Oak Bluffs library through July 23. For more information, see destinyariannastudio.com and chappaquiddickwampanoag.org.