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"Hoodooland" gallery showcases Grand Staircase-Escalante, statement against land cuts

Precarious and looming mushroom-like rock formations are not something you would be expecting to see in New York City.

However, photographer Priscilla Rattazzi is bringing a slice of southern Utah and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to the Big Apple with her new exhibit in the Staley-Wise Gallery called "Hoodooland."

Grand Staircase-Escalante used to be 3,000 square miles of protected land, butwas cut to 1,655 square miles, nearly in half, by the Trump Administration in 2017 for oil and gas drilling.

This news enraged Rattazzi, who identifies as an environmentalist, and she flew out to Utah in 2019 to capture the landscape she has so loved.

"As an artist, I’m a believer in making a point in a subtle manner. This was my way of expressing my frustration and anger at what I have seen the last four years," Rattazzi told The Spectrum.

The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument sees millions of visitors each year who come to hike, see Native American Art and dinosaur fossils, and is a wealth of information for scientists. It also sits upon many deposits of fossil fuels and natural resources that the United States government wants to develop.

Upon arriving at Las Vegas International Airport she met with a local guide, Yermo Welsh, and armed with her Nikon Z7 she bought specifically for this project, the company went hiking through miles upon miles of classic southern Utah desert. She photographs almost entirely in black and white since she thinks it's a much more "artistic medium."

But when she saw her first hoodoo, she was entranced. 

"I fell in love with the hoodoos, I thought they were beautiful, fascinating and funny," she said.

"I jokingly decided that many of these crazy rock formations looked like an army of mystical creatures and middle fingers sending a pointed message to Washington," she said in a press release about the exhibit.

Hoodoos are created when flat-lying rock in a lake or floodplain system protrudes out of the ground and then is sculpted by weather and erosion. The shape of the hoodoos is due to the erosion of different materials, where only the strongest rock remains.

"Borrowing their name from folk witchcraft brought to the Americas by enslaved Africans, these improbably balanced structures appear to be conjured by magic but are in fact formed by layers of soft rock which are eroded over time, leaving a “cap” of hard rock at their pinnacle," the press release said.

While many conservation groups are still continuing to fight against Trump's proclamation, the Department of the Interior issued plans to begin drilling in Grand Staircase-Escalante in February.

Holding the exhibition in a gallery over 2,000 miles away is a way to "attract attention to this monument," Rattazzi said.

"I thought I would honor a piece of the American west and hope that people will come and travel to see southwest Utah and the beauty of these places," she said. "It would be nice to have the impact where people will go out and vote."

The exhibit will be shown from September 17 to November 7 in the Staley-Wise Gallery in New York City. 

- K. Sophie Will

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