we are the people who are darker than blue (art space – new haven, ct)

If your mind could really see
You’d know you’re color the same as me
Pardon me, brother, as you stand in your glory
I know you won’t mind if I tell the whole story

Get yourself together, learn to know your side
Shall we commit our own genocide
Before you check out your mind?

I know we’ve all got problems
That’s why I’m here to say
Keep peace with me and I with you
Let me love in my own way

We people who are darker than blue
Are we gonna stand around this town
And let what others say come true?
We’re just good for nothing they all figure

A boyish, grown up, shiftless jigger
Now we can’t hardly stand for that
Or is that really where it’s at?
We people who are darker than blue

“We Are the People Who Are Darker Than Blue”

Curtis Mayfield                                           1970

In 1998 a physician buddy who was working for the CDC in Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire managing a HIV education and treatment project invited me to shoot a photo essay on the work they were doing. We spent time in hospitals, outreach clinics that did hiv testing + treatment, birth control counseling, and with hiv/aids support groups.  Although it was an emotionally exhausting 2 weeks I witnessed a lot of heartfelt support + love amongst the people impacted by the disease. I witnessed 20 people burst into cheers and cry tears of happiness when they were able to establish a phone connection with one of their members of the AIDS support group.   The last place I visited was an orphanage for children with HIV/AIDS or whose parents died from AIDS.

One might suspect an AIDs orphanage in an impoverished country to be a depressing place but I have honestly never seen a place so much spirit, hope and optimism. Kids, given the opportunity, will be kids.

(my artist statement for the group show “between beauty + demise” art space new haven, ct.  curated by erin joyce.)

School of the Americas Watch Border Encuentro (November 10 – 12)

This past weekend was spent at the SOAW Border Encuentro in Tucson, AZ and Nogales, Sonora, Mexico.  The U.S. Army School of the Americas, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, is located at Fort Benning, Georgia.  As stated on Wikipedia “The School of the Americas was founded in 1946 and from 1961 was assigned the specific goal of teaching “anti-communist counterinsurgency training,” a role which it would fulfill for the rest of the Cold War.[3] In this period, it educated several Latin American dictators, generations of their military and, during the 1980s, included the uses of torture in its curriculum.[4][5]In 2000/2001, the institute was renamed to WHINSEC.[6][7]:233 [8]”

“During the Cold War Colombia supplied the largest number of students from any client country.[7]:17 As the Cold War drew to a close around 1990, United States foreign policy shifted focus from “anti-communism” to the War on Drugs, with narcoguerillas replacing “communists”.[7]:10

“School of the Americas Watch is an advocacy organization founded by former Maryknoll Father Roy Bourgeois and a small group of supporters in 1990 to protest the training of mainly Latin American military officers, by the United States Department of Defense, at the School of the Americas (SOA). Most notably, SOA Watch conducts a vigil each November at the site of the academy, located on the grounds of Fort Benning, a U.S. Army military base near Columbus, Georgia, in protest over human rights abuses committed by some graduates of the academy or under their leadership, including murdersrapes and torture and contraventions of the Geneva Conventions.[1]”

Since 2016 School of the Americas Watch moved their vigil from Fort Benning, GA to the border wall in Nogales to protest the militarization of  the border.  As taken from the SOAW website “…SOA Watch is a nonviolent grassroots movement working to close the SOA / WHINSEC and similar centers that train state actors such as military, law enforcement and border patrol. We strive to expose, denounce, and end US militarization, oppressive US policies and other forms of state violence in the Americas.  We act in solidarity with organizations and movements working for justice and peace throughout the Americas.”

Proceedings began in Tucson with a block printing workshop by fellow Justseeds member Thea Gahr.

My collaborators in creating the image used for the backdrop, Raechel Running and Thea Gahr. (The above 3 photos are by Saiyare Refaei.)

That evening there was a vigil at Eloy Detention Center outside Tucson. Opened in 1994 Eloy Detention Center is a private prison contracted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement where immigrants from surrounding cities are detained sometimes for years.  The center houses both men and women.  An investigation by The Arizona Republic in 2016 found the center to have the highest number of deaths in the U.S.  There have been 15 deaths since 2003 including 5 suicides.  One of the more moving aspects of the vigil was seeing silhouettes of detainees in windows who communicated with demonstrators by turning lights on + off in their cells and by banging on windows.  We learned that the price the detainees pay for this communication is a restriction of their privileges such as visitations with family and legal representation.

 

 

The time in Nogales included workshops, speeches, music and art.  One of the more moving moments included the arrival and participation of a group of activists from Oaxaca who traveled 3 days to participate.  Their journey included stopping along the way to meet with and lend solidarity to other immigration grass roots groups.

(The 2 photos above are by Saiyare Refaei.)

Screen printed posters were made at the event and were given away for free.   We also printed on t shirts and other pieces of clothing provided by participants.

 

Thea getting assistance from across the border.

 

Sweet sage smudge blessing through the border wall with crosses along the bottom of the wall bearing the names of migrants who died over the past year while crossing the Sonoran Desert or in detention.

Crosses with a name of the deceased are raised as people say “presente!” upon hearing the names of those who have perished trying to cross the Sonoran Desert in pursuit of their dreams. An image of hope saying “tear down the walls; build up the people” is in the background.

SOAW demands:

  • An end to US economic, military and political intervention in Latin America
  • Demilitarization and divestment of the borders
  • An end to the racist systems of oppression that criminalize and kill migrants, refugees and communities of color
  • Respect, dignity, justice and the right to self-determination of communities
  • An end to Plan Mérida and the Alliance for Prosperity

End of the encuentro but the struggle continues…

Raul Zito

Brazilian photographer and painter Raul Zito was a guest of the Painted Desert Project August 4 – 11, 2017.  Before coming Zito and I talked a bit about the importance of using local, culturally sensitive imagery here on the reservation.  In light of his short stay this wasn’t possible and he opted to share Brazilian imagery.  While few people he encountered on the reservation were knowledgable about Brazil Zito was pleasantly surprised to learn from a local family who follow bull riding that the top two ranked bull riders on the Professional Bull Riders Association tour currently are Brazilian – Kaique Pacheco and Eduardo Aparecido.  Three of the top 10 bull riders in the world are Brazilian.  As Zito said “Brazil is now known for more than samba, sex + soccer!”

 

Collaboration with Jerrel Singer, downtown Flagstaff.  The dope thing about this installation is that the guy follows you 180 degrees as you walk past him.

 

 

At the Crossroads old trading post

Indigenous woman of the Amazon smoking a traditional pipe, Black Mesa Junction

 

At the Hive, Phoenix

Broken Boxes Podcast Show – Santa Fe, NM

From the Form + Concept website regarding the Broken Boxes Podcast show

Broken Boxes features the art and ideas of over 40 visual artists, filmmakers, sound artists, activists, performance artists and community organizers from around the world who are effecting change through their work. The show is co-curated by Ginger Dunnill and Cannupa Hanska Luger, and all invited artists have participated in an interview on Dunnill’s Broken Boxes Podcast over the past 2 years.

“This is a celebration for the artists who have contributed their time and energy to the Broken Boxes exhibition,” says Dunnill. “Their work continues to lift up our communities and sustain our growth and vibrancy as human beings.”

The show runs from August 18 – October 21, 2017 at Form + Concept Gallery in Santa Fe, NM.

“Meditation on a cloth signifier”

 

Breeze + Ian Kuali’i

 

Ian Kuali’i creating a paper cut portrait.

 

Winona LaDuke with Keri Pickett who made the documentary “First Daughter and the Black Snake.” The film follows environmentalist Winona LaDuke as she fights to block an Enbridge pipeline threatening sacred wild rice watersheds and her tribe’s land in northern Minnesota. The “Prophecy of the 7th Fire” says a “black snake” will bring destruction to the earth. We will have a choice of two paths. One is scorched, and one is green. For Winona (Ojibwe for “first daughter”), the “black snake” is oil trains and pipelines. When she learns that Canadian-owned Enbridge plans to route a new pipeline through her tribe’s 1855 Treaty land, she and her community spring into action to save the sacred wild rice lakes and preserve their traditional indigenous way of life.  The Broken Boxes Podcast show opening coincided with Winona’s birthday.

 

Traditional dancers at Indian Market.

Hope and Trauma in a Poisoned Land: The Impact of Uranium Mining on Navajo Lands + People

 

photo by Nancy Hill

 

advertisement for the show on eye lounge, roosevelt street in phoenix

 

 

 

installation at coconino center for the arts

 

Artist statement for Hope + Trauma in a Poisoned Land

Coconino Center for the Arts August 12, 2017 – October 28, 2017

 

Atomic (r)Age

While many people may be aware of the invaluable contribution of Diné Code Talkers during World War II, few are cognizant of the contribution of Diné uranium miners towards the end of WWII and during the Cold War. Anglos first discovered uranium on the reservation in 1943. Diné miners worked over 500 mines on the reservation until uranium prices dropped in the mid 1980s.

Initially mining company supervisors + public health officials thought the Diné were immune to cancer since their rates were low relative to the national average. More than 5 million pounds of yellowcake was mined which in the process released heavy metals, radon gas and low level radiation from the rock. By 1950 the Public Health Service knew radiation levels at the mines exceeded levels considered safe but did nothing for 2 years.

In May of 1952 the Public Health Service and the Colorado Health Department published a paper called “An Interim Report of a Health Study of the Uranium Mines and Mills.” The levels of radioactive radon gas and radon particles (known as radon daughters), were so high in reservation mines they recommended wetting down rocks while drilling to reduce dust which the miners breathed; giving respirators to the workers; mandating daily showers, frequent changes of clothing, loading the rocks into wagons immediately after being chipped from the walls to decrease time for radon to escape and for miners to receive pre-employment physicals. Sadly, the recommendations were ignored and the Public Health Service was complicit.

Similar to the attitude of the Public Health Service towards southern African-American men in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study from 1932 to 1972 to determine the natural course of syphilis in the human body (even after the discovery of penicillin in 1928), the PHS decided in 1954 to allow natural events to unfold in the mines and the miner’s lungs without explaining the hazards involved.

Economics influenced the woeful state of events on the Navajo nation. In 1955 the Navajo nation received $625,000 a year in uranium royalties which provided about 25% of the annual budget. In light of this, tribal authority at that time demonstrated little interest in learning the hazards of uranium mining. By 1956 the United States was the world’s leading provider of uranium thanks to the Navajo nation.   Monument Valley provided nearly 1.4 million tons of uranium ore to the American people. At the same time the PHS recorded the first death of a 48 year old Anglo mining foreman at the Monument Valley Mine Number 2. He died of lung cancer.

By 1960 the PHS definitively declared that uranium miners faced an elevated risk of pulmonary cancer. However, it wasn’t until June 10, 1967 that the Secretary of Labor issued a regulation declaring that “…no uranium miner could be exposed to radon levels that would induce a higher risk of cancer than that faced by the general population.” By this time it was too late. In the 15 years after the uranium boom the cancer death rate among the Diné doubled from the early 1970s to the late 1990s. During this period the overall U.S. cancer death rate declined.

As a physician at a small clinic on the Navajo nation since 1987 many of my patients have suffered and continue to suffer the effects of uranium mining. I asked a co-worker whose father worked as a uranium miner in the mid 60s and who died of a uranium related cancer if she’d share with me any memorabilia she had of her father from that period. She shared with me stories of her dad and provided photographs from that period. Her mother died of a uranium related cancer and she has an older brother presently suffering from a uranium related cancer.

I chose to work with a translucent fabric to emphasize the penetrative, see through nature of radioactive material and to place the viewer in the perspective of a radon daughter. The see through material also references the ephemeral, fragile and transient nature of our life experience at a time when the new Secretary of Energy seeks to “make nuclear cool again” in a new atomic age.

For more information regarding ongoing efforts to stop uranium mining just outside the south rim of the Grand Canyon check: https://www.haulno.org/ and http://www.indigenousactionnetwork.org

Rose Hurley and her great grandson in Bitter Springs

full circle

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 14, 2011

eu amo o brasil!

big shout out to raul zito, photographer and wheat paste artist in sao paulo, brasil.  i’ve been following his work on various street art blogs and learned through flickr he’s been following mine as well.  here’s an example of his work in sao paulo.

 

he and i got in touch with one another late 2010 and he offered to get a piece of mine up in sao paulo.  the piece isn’t finished yet but here’s what he’s done so far.  i absolutely love it.  he put me beside magrela mag who did the piece on the second apartment in the first photo (up top).  sweet!  i love the way jamaal is flying into the mama bird’s mouth, through the basketball hoop while the beautiful, nude woman checks it all out.  wicked piece!

stay tuned.  he’ll be getting files of his to me soon to paste here.  how cool is that?!

 

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 18, 2011

rain dance…

it never fails.  whenever i do a big installation, it rains.  such was the case last week and this weekend in phoenix.  so after a week, stephanie’s photo on the billboard, the collab with breeze, is already starting to come down.  one week later.  that hurts.  steve, julia’s husband and partner in managing the hive, said he’d try to paste her back up.  i left some wheat paste with him that had started to turn sour.  yum.

meanwhile, i met niba yesterday.  he’s a photographer who is based in tucson, i think.  it was one of those moments when virtual reality becomes real and you meet someone from your social networking sites.  in truth, i thought niba, also known as “dead now” on twitter was a woman.  o well.  instead, he’s a great guy with 2 beautiful children.  here are some of his images from yesterday’s installation.  thanks niba!

i mentioned above that raul zito of sao paulo pasted one of my pieces in sao paulo.  i returned the favor + pasted one of his images in phoenix.  what comes around…

shout out to the british two tone movement

with miguel

 

kicking it with breeze + erin gramzinski

 

July 9, 2017

I don’t often read posts from back in the day when I started pasting especially posts found on my Blogspot site. (I miss that url – http://www.speakingloudandsayingnothing.blogspot.com, aka “yo mama.”) It’s fun seeing my enthusiasm for everything about the art form.  In this case it’s especially exciting to read through these posts from early 2011 to reflect on how long I’ve been aware of Zito’s work and to remember that dreams can come true.  He’ll be coming to the rez in just under a month.  Full circle.  Yay!

 

 

American Domain

Humanist and documentary photographer Dan Budnik is best known for his black and white photography from the civil rights era.  It was Dan’s photo of Dr. King that appeared on the cover of Time magazine when Dr. King was assassinated.  After covering the civil rights movement from 1964 – 66 Dan gradually made his way to northern Arizona where he’d heard of a longstanding land dispute between Navajo + Hopi tribes.  In 1984 the dispute resulted in approximately 9000 of 180,000 Navajo tribal members being  forcibly relocated from ancestral land where they were primarily sheep and cattle herders in exchange for life in prefabricated homes.  Sadly, many of the people relocated didn’t have the income to cover utilities as they’d formerly made their livelihood from their animals.  Many found themselves homeless.  However, a group of elders refused to leave their ancestral homeland and to this day continue to protest forced relocation.
Dan’s images of the land dispute generated interest in a documentary film on the subject titled “Broken Rainbow” which won an Academy Award in 1985 for best documentary.  As noted on the promo poster for the film “There is no word for relocation in the Navajo language; to relocate is to disappear and never been seen again.”
I was asked recently by curator Erin Elder to consider submitting work for a pop up show critically evaluating land use in a capitalist economy (for the Museum of Capitalism in Oakland).  She says of her portion of the show titled American Domain “…Under capitalism, land is measured, marked, bounded, guarded, and owned; it is a commodity, a site of production, and oftentimes, capitalism’s dumping ground. Though land ownership is not an inherently American phenomenon, the United States was founded on a land grab and its identity has been consistently wrapped up with the economics of territory. Through artists’ work about fences and walls, boundaries and their trespass, American Domain examines notions of property and ownership.”
Dan’s images from his time at Big Mountain immediately came to mind.  I approached him about using one of his images for an installation and found him to be excited by the idea.  Next I sought out a part time resident of Big Mountain whose mother was active in the relocation resistance.  We agreed that in light of the ongoing struggles of First Nations people to maintain sovereignty over their land this image is as timely now as it was when it was taken circa 1984 and he consented to its use.
The United States Flag Code
Title 4, Chapter 1
The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.
Installing the image over a week in Oakland led to several insightful moments such as the police officer who pointed out the flag was upside down as he passed in his cruiser or the fireman who stopped his firetruck, got out and engaged me in conversation about the photo.  The most compelling interaction was with a vet who vehemently proclaimed one evening while I was on the lift that he fought for that flag and didn’t appreciate seeing it upside down.  He concluded by saying “Trump 2017!”  Two days later he returned and shared that after 8 years of combat in Afghanistan seeing things no one should ever see he now suffers from PTSD, sleeps poorly and can’t hold a job.  Things set him off easily and he has trouble controlling his emotions.  He said he’d gone into service believing in this country and it’s promise of democracy both here and abroad only to realize he’d wasted 8 years of his life and is a changed man.  He apologized for his aggressive tone 2 days earlier and cried as he recounted some of his life experiences.  I thanked him for returning and providing an opportunity for discussion.  We shook hands and embraced before he headed on his way.
man carrying items to recycling center at dawn
shaking hands with the vet                      photo by claudia escobar

photo by claudia escobar
Brooklyn Street Art article is here.
For more information on this ongoing struggle, check www.supportblackmesa.org.

Ruben Aguirre + Twyla Hunt’s food truck

On a hot day on the Colorado Plateau in early June Chicago based writer + street artist “Looks_1” (Ruben Aguirre) met with Twyla Hunt to paint her food truck.  Ruben, Twyla’s mom, Mary + Twyla discussed what he might paint while Twyla’s son swam in the sprinkler…

 

Kate Deciccio at Navajo Mountain

 

florence with her portrait of she + gloria

 

hosteen buck navajo with his portrait

 

portraits of florence + bahe ketchum

 

Washington, DC based artist, community organizer + activist Kate Deciccio recently completed a 2 week project with the Navajo Mountain Chapter House. Here’s what she said about her experience…

I arrived to Navajo Mountain, Naatsis’aan and met with Lorena Atene, Community Services Coordinator & Hank Stevens, Chapter President to talk about their vision for the project. “What is the purpose of the art? What stories are we trying to tell through this project?” I asked. Lorena & Hank shared several main objectives.
We want to engage our youth in something creative where they explore the mythology of the mountain & also have a chance to be expressive.
We want to honor the importance of the struggle to protect Bear Ears Monument for its significance as a place where healers collect medicine, hold ceremonies & hunt.
We want art for the Stronger & Healthier Navajo Nation & Eehaniih Celebrations in July & August. Specifically Eehaniih honors the people who were able to avoid internment by hiding in the canyons behind the mountain, our veterans, our elders & people who have left & returned to our community.

The next morning Lorena & I were off make house visits to elders who she & Hank felt embodied the spirit of Eehaniih. We knocked on Grandpa Buck Navajo’s hogan & he & his daughter invited us in for a visit filled with stories about his 84 years of healing. Grandpa Buck is animated but his speech is quiet & I don’t know Navajo. Thankfully his daughter Lena & Lorena were there to translate.
“I began studying ceremonies when I was 10. I’m 94 now, the oldest medicine man here, and when I was 18, people from this community began going to fight WWII,” Buck shared. He went on to talk about all that he’s seen and the responsibility of the medicine man to care for the community during, WWII, the Korean War, land partition, livestock reduction, the Vietnam War, Desert Storm & today. He was light & warm & pointed to boxes of fresh Navajo tea and the tobacco he was chopping on the floor. While talking about ceremonies that took him years to learn, the use of singing & baskets, he also made jokes & shared the Spanish words he learned from his Mexican co-workers when he worked on the railroad, “Nada Mamacita!”

I would have been happy staying all day listening to Grandpa’s Buck’s stories but I took his photograph and Lorena & I headed to meet Gloria & Florence. Gloria grew up in Navajo Mountain and left with her husband to live in Chicago for 44 years. She lives down the hill from Florence who has spent her entire life caring for herds of sheep and goats who graze in the giant open pastures between their houses tucked behind the mountain. Gloria was eager to sit down, drink pink lemonade & reminisce about her days riding horses & how she met her husband. I was curious to learn more about the corner of her living room dedicated to Elvis but she wanted to share about how her son married an Indian girl who she loves but that she always tell him, “You married the wrong kind of indian.”
Meanwhile Florence kept peeking her head out the door, looking up the hill, noting that it was hot & that the sheep & goats were in the coral. Despite that Florence who have been just fine avoiding photos all together, I followed Gloria’s lead & photographed them together both inside & in front of the hogan.

Lastly we reached out to the family of Bahe Ketchum, one of the Navajo Code Talkers who was from Navajo Mountain & died just a few years ago. His son Arthur shared photos and new articles about his dad’s experience in WWII.

For the next few days I split my time between rendering the portraits to make stencils of the elders & painting a mural in the meeting house that features the native plants used most often in Navajo plant medicine.Thanks to Nizhóní, I had great help and input making it possible to finish the wall in just 4 days.

The following week I met the 7 student workers assigned to the art project. Lorena was like, “If you can please paint, 8 palettes for the park, 6 picnic tables that match, 2 5×12′ canvases & if you finish…. I have a list of other spots where we’d love art.” No big deal.
The youth were like, “We’re not sure what to expect but if we can spray paint, we’re on board!”
We looked at some Navajo textiles & pottery designs, talked about pattern structures & symmetry & began painting. By the end of day 1, the kids had painted all 8 palettes with beautiful layered patterns and were each beginning to experiment with fading and color transitions. As the week unfolded, we researched the connections between the land features & Navajo deities. The students talked to their parents & grandparents about the stories they had learned about the land and we quickly realized that depending on each clan, the significance of each place really varied. Some people thought Rainbow Bridge was very sacred, other people said, “That place doesn’t mean much to us, I’ve walked under there.” Some people believed the Twins, the children of the Sun resided in the mountain, other people believed they lived in a mountain near Window Rock. Here I was attempting to support the kids to discover “The Story,” but we learned together that actually there were many stories & a diversity of connection & offense to each perspective. The students collectively agreed that to them, being from Navajo Mountain means feeling deeply connected to the beauty and vastness of the land. They shared about how grateful they feel for living in a place where there is very little commercial development & we made big lists of all of the animals & plants that to them capture the essence of their community. Together we worked out a mural composition integrating patterns from rugs, petroglyphs, animals, & text about how the land makes the kids feel.

Each day we talked about the strengths and struggles of Navajo Mountain to support youth. The kids agreed that small town drama and feelings of boredom & isolation drive alcoholism & depression for many people in the community, that lack of access to healthy food and opportunity has big implications on people’s ability to believe they can do what they want with their lives. They helped cut out the large stencils of Grandpa Buck, Gloria, Florence & Bahe and we talked about what they hope to accomplish in the community as they become leaders.
By the end of the week I found myself inventing small jobs so they could work independently and experiment developing their individual styles. They paint the chapter’s backhoe, cold planer, electric meters, a bunch of picnic tables, and definitely a few things without permission.

Spending 12 days painting at the Navajo Mountain chapter house was an opportunity to be with people and attempt to create art that reflects back all that the community shared with me about who they are and how they see themselves. Wrapping up last night, we agreed that in our time together, we were exceptionally productive but that also projects like this unveil how much more could be possible….. What could happen if we committed to using art to explore community stories all year long? How could we support the students to learn the skills to resist depression and alcoholism by engaging in art? I feel good about leaving this project with new questions and inspiration. Huge thanks to The Painted Desert Project for getting the art & dialogue started.

 

Thank you Kate for your passion, dedication + amazing work!

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