A Millennial Weaver Carries a Centuries-Old Craft Forward

Spiders are weavers. The Navajo artist and weaver Melissa Cody knows this palpably. As she sits cross-legged on sheepskins at her loom, on one of the wooden platforms that boost her higher as her stack of monumental tapestries grows, the sacred knowledge of Spider Woman and Spider Man, who brought the gift of looms and weaving to the Diné, or Navajo, is right there in her studio with her.

It also infuses “Melissa Cody: Webbed Skies,” the first major solo exhibition of the artist’s work, which is on view at MoMA PS1 through Sept. 9. in a co-production with the São Paulo Museum of Art in Brazil (known as MASP).

The exhibition is part of the overdue recognition of Indigenous artists by museums and other institutions, from the recent retrospective of Jaune Quick-to-See-Smith’s work at the Whitney Museum of American Art to the expanding roster of artists at the Venice Biennale. Cody, 41, is a millennial at the forefront of an art form harking back millenniums — at once building on tradition and joyously venturing beyond it.

Her show’s title alludes to her 2021 work “Under Cover of Webbed Skies,” in which hourglass shapes resembling a spider’s underbelly stand in for the artist herself, passing Spider Woman’s wisdom on to future generations and a web of motherly protection from mountain to sky. (Selected works are also at the Garth Greenan Gallery from April 25 to June 15.)

Melissa Cody, a fourth-generation Navajo weaver, at her loom in her studio in Long Beach, Calif. She is tapping yarns for her textiles with the same wood comb she started out with at age 5. Credit…Nia Macknight for The New York Times

Cody was weaned on weaving, tapping weft yarns for her nine-foot-tall textiles with the same wood comb she started out with at age 5. She grew up on the western edge of the Navajo Nation in Arizona, the fourth generation from a family of distinguished female weavers, most notably her award-winning mother, Lola S. Cody, who raises her own churro sheep for traditional patterns like “Two Grey Hills,” and her grandmother Martha Gorman Schultz, still pioneering in her 90s on her outdoor loom.

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