Contemporary Tongva artists wearing Pimugna

The Catalina Museum for Art & History will present the exhibition Crossing Waters: Contemporary Tongva Artists Carrying Pimugna, showcasing a collection of works created by three contemporary Tongva artists, Weshoyot Alvitre, Mercedes Dorame and River Garza.

Opened on September 10, Crossing Waters marks the inaugural partnership between the museum and the Tongva community, recognizing the Tongva people as the original Santa Catalina Islanders.

Pimugna, often shortened to Pimu, is the Tongva name for the island now known as Catalina Island. It was once an integral part of the greater Tonvaangar, the Tongva world. Through their individual practices, the three presenting artists explore their relationship with the island, crossing waters to connect past, present and future. As descendants of the Tongva community, Alvitre, Dorame and Garza will showcase a variety of unseen contemporary artworks for the new exhibition. Crossing Waters will be the first time the three Tongva artists will be presented together. To celebrate the new exhibition, the museum will hold an official opening party on Saturday, October 22.

“This is the Catalina Museum’s first exhibit dedicated to the tribal and community voices of Tongva,” said Johnny Sampson, deputy director and chief curator of the museum. “We are thrilled to bring these incredible artists together to provide a platform for conversation, using contemporary art as a vessel, spanning time and bridging cultures, to discuss Pimugna’s place in the history and future of original peoples.”

Weshoyot Alvitre is an artist and comic illustrator from Tongva (Los Angeles area) and Scotland. She was born in the Santa Monica Mountains on the property of Satwiwa, a cultural center founded by her father, Art Alvitre. She grew up close to the land and was raised with traditional knowledge that inspires the work she does today. Alvitre has worked in comics for over 15 years and has since contributed to numerous Eisner award-winning books, including “Umbrella Academy” (Darkhorse Comics), “Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream” (Locust Moon Press) and “Little Bird” (Image Comics). She has received accolades for her work that visualizes historical material, including “Graphic Classics: Native American Classics” (Eureka Productions), The Cattle Thief 2018 AILA Best Middle School Book “Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers” (Native Realities Press) , 2018 Pew Arts & Heritage Grant funded “Ghostriver: The Fall and Rise of the Conestoga” (Library Company of Philadelphia/Native Realities Press) and 2020 American Indian Youth Literature Award – Picture Book Honor “At The Mountain’s Base” (Kokila) .

Los Angeles-born Mercedes Dorame received her MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute and her undergraduate degree from UCLA. She calls on her Tongva ancestry to engage the issue of (in)visibility and ideas of cultural construction. Dorame’s work is in the permanent collections of the Hammer Museum, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Triton Museum, the Allen Memorial Art Museum, the de Saisset Museum, the Montblanc Foundation Collection, and the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum. She is currently a visiting professor at CalArts and was recently honored by UCLA as part of the “UCLA: Our Stories Our Impact” centennial initiative, and was part of the Hammer Museum’s 2018 Made in LA exhibit. Dorame has shown his work internationally. Her writing has been featured in News From Native California and 580 Split and her work has been featured in PBS Newshour, Artforum, KCET Artbound, The New York Times, Art in America, Hyperallergic, KQED, Artsy, ARTnews, The Los Angeles Times, the SF Chronicle, among others.

River Garza is an artist from Los Angeles whose work draws inspiration from traditional Native aesthetics, Southern California native maritime culture, skateboarding, graffiti, Mexican culture, and Low Rider culture. Garza’s practice is inseparable from his Tongva heritage. He is an amalgamation of centuries of resistance, forced assimilation and resettlement and his work reflects these disjunctions of memory, tradition and identity. Her practice focuses on how differential treatment under colonizing governments constructs Indigenous identities, using physical layers of cultural artifacts in her work, such as oil, spray paint, pen and paper cut-outs. western magazines that incorporate ancestral Tongva iconography and contemporary experiences. Garza’s work acts as a critique of settler capitalism while exploring how the literal and metaphorical layers of colonialism add weight to contemporary Indigenous identity that is both painful and creative.

Crossing Waters was created in partnership with members of Native American Heritage Listed Tribal Entities, the LA City/County Indian Commission, UCLA’s NAGPRA Committee, and other Native communities and Tribal members to form a Tongva Advisory Board.

For more information about the Crossing Waters: Contemporary Tongva Artists Carrying Pimugna exhibit at the Catalina Museum for Art & History, visit

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