Descanso Gardens is proud to announce the debut of a very special exhibition, Full Circle: A Return to the Land, which will be on display at the Sturt Haaga Gallery from November 13, 2021 to March 13, 2022. The exhibition chronicles human interaction with the land in and around Descanso Gardens from the Tongva through various cultures, up to today.
Descanso Gardens grew out of a purchase of 165 acres of undeveloped land by Los Angeles newspaper publisher Elias Manchester Boddy in the late 1930s. The title to the land can be traced back to a 1784 land grant of 36,403 acres from the King of Spain to José María Verdugo. But even before this the Tongva, the first peoples of Los Angeles, managed an ecosystem that was mutually beneficial to the land and its inhabitants.
In the exhibition, each of the new cultures that arrived in Southern California—Spanish, Mexican and Anglo-American—will be examined by the effect they have had on the existing land and/or culture. Wherever possible, historical events are looked at from a Native American or marginalized perspective, to explore beyond the traditional narrative written by white chroniclers and historians. History can be seen in the history of Toypurina, a Tongva woman who took a leadership role in the 1785 revolt against the San Gabriel Mission. The interweaving of history, art, and ethnobotany from largely unheard perspectives fosters a deeper understanding of how Descanso Gardens and much of Southern California evolved from pre-European contact to the present time.
“Full Circle: A Return to the Land” is organized by Lynn LaBate, an award-winning curator whose multi-disciplinary exhibitions have included The Virgin of Guadalupe: Interpreting Devotion; Siqueiros in Los Angeles: Censorship Defied; and Breaking Ground: 20th Century Latin American Art from the Norton Simon Collection.
The show consists of photographs, maps, works of art, landscape plans and video components. Artists include Judith F. Baca, Graham I. Hayes, Daniel Medina, Maynard Dixon, Mercedes Dorame, River Garza, iris yirie hu, William Henry Jackson, Sandra de la Loza, Sheila Pinkel, Craig Torres, J. Michael Walker and Carleton Watkins. Video footage comes from Laura Purdy, KCET and the Autry Museum of the American West; Steven W. Hackel; Adam Abada and Friends of the Los Angeles River.
“Descanso Gardens provides the perfect opportunity to learn about our ancient and recent past and envision our future,” said LaBate. “It sits on historic land, originally cared for and tended by the Tongva, part of one of the first land grants of the Spanish colonial era, and now one of a few undeveloped oases in our urban landscape. We can learn from the reciprocal relationship that the Tongva have with the earth, pledging to care for all of nature, treating plants, animals, and humans with respect. This age-old tradition is not a relic from the past, but a living tradition, one that would benefit our world if we could learn to honor nature instead of exploiting it.”
While Tongva wisdom presents models of how we can interact with our land and with each other, Descanso Gardens offers a window into what the Los Angeles Basin once looked like and ideas for supporting nature through pollinators and native plants. These profound cultural and ecological philosophies allow us to feel more connected to ourselves, our communities, and our environment.
Descanso has several opening weekend activities planned in conjunction with the exhibition including:
Native Plant Activity Guide, 10am-2pm, Sturt Haaga Gallery Patio
Pick up an activity guide and use it to navigate our new plant display at the gallery.
Garden to Gallery Walk and Talk, 1pm. Meet at Center Circle
Join us for a walk-through of Descanso’s oak forest and learn about native plants at our brand new plant display at the gallery patio. The walk will culminate at the Full circle exhibition and curator Lynn LaBate will introduce you to the show. Take a walk through the exhibition and chat informally with exhibition contributors.
The Sturt Haaga Gallery is open from 10am to 4pm daily. Free with admission.