New Mexico-based interdisciplinary artist Paula Wilson challenges the fabled narrative of the western landscape from a new perspective, weaving together ideas from the viewpoint of a naturalist, educator, ecosexual, and contemporary artist of color.

Wilson’s 2021 Tamarind residency produced a body of work that explores ideas of light, attraction, and the act of observing. At the center of this series is the Yucca moth, the sole pollinator of the flowering Yucca plant, which together thrive in the dry climate of the desert southwest. Wilson constructs her narrative around the behavior and symbolism of the moth, bringing attention to its transformation, camouflage, and systems of survival.

Tamarind artist Paula Wilson
Tamarind artist Paula Wilson

In Catching the Night, Wilson sets up an imagined night performance of sorts, with a central figure based on her own likeness standing in the brilliant glow of a black light and holding a large sheet to catch the light and attract the moths. The illuminated scene imagines a dance between the light, the hovering moths, and the interaction of the female figure and the anonymous observer who is represented by a cell phone. The inclusion of the cell phone screen at lower right introduces another light source, while capturing the vibrant pattern of the moth’s wings and extending the narrative off the frame of the printed image.

The moth and the cell phone are central players in the edition Eye Spots, too, with a cropped female figure holding a cell phone up to the window to capture a moth that has landed on the pane as a hand-printed collaged paper object. In this rich play of observer and observed, camera eye and winged eye spots, Wilson creates a sense of longing for a connection to the natural world.

Her Lepidoptera Collection, a series of five individually presented moths each detailed with its own imagined wing pattern, brings the formal study of insects and preservation of specimens into the dialogue. As in much of her work that considers the act of looking, these prints circle around how we see and how we respond to the natural world.

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