Crossing Waters: Rediscovering the Rich Cultural Heritage of Pimugna


Norine Holguin

8/17/20232 min read

Step into the world of awe and wonder as we delve into the exhibition "Crossing Waters: Contemporary Tongva Artists Carrying Pimugna," now showcased at the Catalina Museum for Art and History in Avalon. This groundbreaking display celebrates the vibrant cultural legacy of the Tongva people and offers a unique glimpse into their profound relationship with Pimugna (Catalina Island) and the greater world of Tovaangar.

The Journey of Tovaangar

Tovaangar, known as the whole or middle world to the Tongva, encompasses the land, water, and the Original People. Catalina Island, or Pimu, is one of the Southern Channel Islands and holds immense significance in their history. Separated by the sea yet connected through spiritual paths, the Tongva's existence stands as a testament to their resilience and presence throughout the ages.

A Spiritual Exploration through Art

The exhibition comes alive with a rich palette of blues, reds, blacks, and browns that immerses visitors in the deep blue sea of Tovaangar. The art, curated by three contemporary Tongva artists - Weshoyot Alvitre, Mercedes Dorame, and River Garza, marks the beginning of a meaningful partnership between the museum and the Tongva Community. Their works showcase a cohesive and spiritual journey that dances with light and magic, inviting viewers to experience the interconnectedness of Pimugna and its people.

We Dance Across the Water - Yakeenaxre Naamkomokre Paar, 2022

Mercedes Dorame's site-specific installation captures attention upon entering the gallery. Suspended acrylic paintings depicting stars, islands, and petroglyph-like patterns surround a skylight, symbolizing the celestial guidance and connections between the islands. Platforms adorned with beautiful objects and symbolic elements create an immersive experience that honors the intricate pathways and knowledge of her Tongva ancestors.

Reviving Heritage and Sacred Stories

Weshoyot Alvitre's powerful series, "Hi mo-yok’ mok: po-koo (No, He is not dead: #1 - #4)," reinterprets a tragic incident from the 16th century and resurrects the sacred nature of the birds that once rested on the patio. Through acrylic on canvas and ink on board, Alvitre skillfully intertwines traditional Western culture narratives with her heritage, bridging the past, present, and future.

The Trickster and Protector - Coyote

River Garza's works capture the essence of Coyote, a figure that plays dual roles as the trickster and protector. His art, combining acrylic, marker, spray paint, and mixed media, explores the connection to Tongva seafaring culture. The pieces beautifully evoke the patterns of heirloom woven baskets, celebrating the Tongva past with a contemporary twist.

Embracing Tongva Culture and Heritage

Together, the artists and curators have crafted a captivating series of images that celebrate the epic past of the Tongva people and their profound connection to Pimu. The exhibition pays homage to the native peoples' history and spirituality, promising future exhibitions that celebrate Tongva culture and island history.


“Crossing Waters Takes Viewers on a Luminous Journey.” Diversions LA, 25 Feb. 2023,

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