For her stunning new series of paintings, New York artist Dana Sherwood centres on her experience of living and working amongst nomadic tribes in Mongolia.
During her time there, Sherwood immersed herself in the tribe’s culture, spending a month in a traditional yurt, taking part in ceremonial Ayahuasca rituals, and navigating the vast landscape with the tribe’s herders and their horses. She emerged awed by the tribe’s profound respect for nature and its cycles.
The resulting series, Horses for the Trees, includes video, installation and drawing, and features horses as the primary animal of focus, uniting her Mongolian experiences with a lifelong passion for dressage in a way that is both intensely personal and transcendentally universal.
An experienced equestrian who competes in competitive dressage, Sherwood is known for creating work that explores contact between humans and non-human animals to understand culture and behaviour.
"I know horses very well," Sherwood tells Creative Boom. "I began riding at age seven and have worked in stables for many years. In a sense I know them so well, I can think like a horse. The other animals I work with are wild and I use food to entice them to interact with me. They surprised me at every turn. There is nothing unusual about feeding horses, we already do that every day.
"So, in order to approach them in a way that felt fresh and unpredictable, I decided to investigate energetic communication. It was a subject I knew little about, but was aware of its use for therapeutic purposes, particularly equine therapies. I researched many different techniques and learned as much as I could from animal communicators, equine therapists, shamans, intuitive and reiki masters. I was interested in making a connection with the horses, as I had with the raccoons and other wild species. I just opted for a different methodology."
Her sculptures, video works, and watercolours portray animals who live among or at the borders of human populations. The animals play an intricate role as subjects and collaborators, asserting their visibility and desires even as Sherwood’s work theorises about the Anthropocene, the current geological epoch in which human activity has caused substantial, irreversible damage to the natural world.
What surprised her most about the tribe's way of life? "Well, it’s not a tribe. It's just the Mongolian lifestyle. Even city dwellers spend a lot of time in the countryside. It is very accessible, modern and ancient at the same time. While the herders are connected to modern life with cell phones and satellite TV, it is a simple, more streamlined way of life. I suppose I was very impressed by the way the two worlds merge seamlessly in a very healthy, integrated way."
Does she miss the way of life, now that she has returned home? "I miss the pace more than anything. Life follows a more natural cycle, things take time, and there is no rushing around the way we do here in America."
Dana Sherwood's Horses for the Trees exhibition at Denny Dimin Gallery in Tribeca, New York runs from 1 November until 7 December.