Category: community

off with a bang!

So here we are on the cusp of a new year.  It’s 2017’s turn to bring forth a new beginning, an opportunity for a re-do or maybe a resetting of our imaginations.  I want to give thanks for the beauty around me and to people like Cori Bearshield + her family and to the Hurleys who share moments of beauty from their lives with me.   Thank you for the goodness.

 

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Tahnee on hoverboard while Tehya gets her moccasins tied.

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cori-adjusting-daughters-sash-2

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Cori adjusting Tahnee’s sash belt.

The Hurleys

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mr-mrs-hurley-bw

The Hurleys with + without their great grandson, Batman.

Let’s do this 2017!  Happy New Year!

Indigenous People’s Day at Fort Lewis College

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stop-police-brutality

end-racism

 

drum-circle

jc-with-mom-dog-full-installation

family-on-stage

mural

I’m honored to have been invited by students and staff and Fort Lewis College to create a mural in recognition of their first celebration of Indigenous People’s Day October 10, 2016 choosing to tell history from the perspective of First Nations people.  Goodbye Columbus Day.  The effort to get the city of Durango and the college to recognize Indigenous People’s Day was the result of a long struggle for Dine’ writer, poet and artist Esther Belin, resident of Durango.  The day began with an indigenous student led demonstration in solidarity with the protectors at Standing Rock, North Dakota, those victimized by police brutality and a call for an end to racism.  The highlight of the day was having JC Morningstar, her family and the dog pictured in the mural travel to Durango, CO to attend the festivities.  The highlight of their day was getting down to the technotribal sounds of A Tribe Called Red later in the evening.

Dine’ poet, artist, activist Demian Dineyazhi met JC and her family and wrote a poem for the occasion titled Two Stars Rising in the North at Dusk which speaks to the family’s recent loss of JC’s 16 year old brother by suicide.

“Two Stars Rising In the North swings at dusk

One star creates her form in the glittering world

It is inherited strength from resilient ancestors

The other follows her and blesses her journey

It is the wild, steadfast spirit of fallen warriors

Together they breeze through cosmic wind

Intertwined in horse hair and kinetic genesis

Together they guide her movement:

In beauty you are reborn again

In beauty he is reborn again

In beauty she is reborn again

In beauty we are reborn again”

Shout out to Nancy Stoffer, the students at Fort Lewis, Demian Dineyazhi and my assistant Brian Gonnella for helping to make this possible.

Brooklyn Street Art write up.

Painted Desert Project Summary, Artist: Demian DinéYazhi

From September 6th – 9th, 2016 I was invited out to the Painted Desert Project by Chip Thomas (Jetsonorama) to engage with students at the Shonto Preparatory School on the Navajo Nation. Prior to my time with the Painted Desert Project, Chip and myself discussed making artwork with the immediate community that would result in a wheatpaste and text-based mural. My target community was an Indigenous LGBTQ2S and/or intergenerational group whom I could workshop and collaborate alongside before leading up to the production of artwork for a proper mural. Eventually, we agreed on connecting with a local school over the course of a week to establish a group of youth to work with on a longer engagement slated for the spring of 2017.

As established by Chip, my main point of contact at Shonto Prep was the Jane of all trades, Orleta Slick, whom set up prior arrangements with the interim art teacher, Nicole Laughter. My first day in the classroom was spent introducing the kids ( 5th grade to 8th grade) to my artwork and the themes explored through the imagery. For instance, I began speaking to the kids about Indigenous identity and the importance of self-representation. By showing them images that appropriated photographs taken from a non-Native photographer that simultaneously address Indigenous Feminism, I asked the students to look up definitions of patriarchy, matriarchy, appropriation, and subversion.

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Introducing the kids to these themes was no easy task, I realized the concepts I was bringing to the classroom was likely the first time the kids had been introduced to these words and definitions. Ultimately, I was able to link it back to reservation issues that are often seen in Navajo communities and referenced historical events, like the Long Walk, as a way to create context for the students. It was inspiring to see the kids thumb through their dictionary after being prompted to look up some of these words in their dictionaries, but also to see the children make connections between Hopi maidens and Princess Leia without being asked to consider the potential connection and appropriation of Indigenous Hopi culture.

In spite of the challenge of trying to demystify complex concepts to a group of students whom likely hadn’t grasped the social hierarchies embedded into the fabric of Indigenous and contemporary society, I felt my first day with the students was a success. After introducing my work and projects I am a part of, I took a moment and introduced the kids to the main reason why I was in their classroom: to create a mural that was a reflection of their community. Some of the students were familiar with the Painted Desert Project, so I asked them to consider how these images and murals made them feel the next time they came across them in passing. For instance, “do these images make you feel a sense of pride in who you are as Diné people?

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The next day I started the students off with a 5-minute “free write”. After giving the students a prompt—such as, “write about one of your favorite memories or dreams”, “what do yourself doing when you’re 18”, or “write about whatever inspires you most in life”—I told the students that they did not need to share this with the class and that whatever they wrote they were free to do with as they saw fit. I wanted the kids to walk away from the exercise with two things: 1) to spend time with their thoughts and using their hands as a tool of expression; 2) to feel secure knowing that whatever they wrote wasn’t for an adult or for a participation grade, but that writing could serve various purposes outside of conventional school assignments.

After the writing assignment I spoke briefly again about the Painted Desert Project and whether the students wanted to do a group collage together or create monoprints in the classroom on the last day of my residency. The curiosity of the kids all gravitated toward monoprinting. After that was decided, Nicole Laughter and myself accompanied the students outside for a drawing assignment focused on drawing the surroundings of Shonto Prep. Some kids drew large trees that tower over anthills, the water tower off in the distance, stink bugs that slowly walked by, or imagined entirely different landscapes. This was a short exercise, but it afforded the students the opportunity to engage with the world and consider drawing from real life.

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My last day at Shonto Prep started off with a 5-minute “free write”, and was followed by an interactive monoprint workshop with each class. I showed the students some examples of the different types of screenprinting and letterpress (text-based) printing that I have worked on over the last few years. Initially I had anticipated a group project, but the students all gravitated toward individual text, which ended up being really effective because it challenged the students by having them consider how the image gets printed—in reverse. Some students printed their names, characters from popular app games (i.e. Minecraft), school sport team logos, hearts with “MOM” written above them, or the name of their schoolyard crushes.

What interested me the most about this project was the amount the students opened up in such a confined space. They were challenged to work together on a limited surface and while some people were compelled to work on images and prints, other students were more drawn to focus on spreading ink or applying pressure to get a good print. This fascinated me because it was a true example of the benefits of working together and respecting the labor involved with each process. Another thing that I didn’t consider is that not all the students felt inspired to be creative in the exact same way, because for others, physical labor is as valid of a form of creative expression and holds as much purpose as creating a piece of art.

Upon my departure from Shonto Prep, I felt that the workshops and class exercises were successful in exposing students to alternative ways of thinking about creative practice. Another goal was to create a relationship with students and a community that could be nurtured through the coming months. While my time at Shonto was limited, it was important for me to create a prolonged engagement with the community in order to familiarize myself with the landscape and the community that takes care of it and survives in the comforts of what it has to offer.

I also wanted to get a sense of what I felt would be a meaningful interaction and reflection of the community. It became evident that the best representation of this community would come through the form of a photography collage project that asks the students to photograph their families, landscapes, animals, or things that make them proud, and then take those photographs and create a mural that will be displayed outside the front of their school building.

up highway 64 towards the entrance of the south rim (at thomasina’s stand)

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jc-+-monica

 

jc-(outside)

It had been a  couple years since I last spent any time with Marley and her mom, Sina in their spot near the Little Colorado River Gorge.  I had a leftover screen print that was one of the posters used to promote the 2014 People’s Climate March (printed by Justseeds artist, Jesse Purcell).  Although Sina wasn’t there, Marley was there with a full crew.  Thanks for a fun hang!

flagstaff x la misión

Wow.  It’s been a busy couple weeks which included prepping like a big dog for the Mountain Film festival installation, going to Telluride at 9000 feet to do the installation with the occasional small piece going up in Flagstaff.  Shout out to Brooklyn Street Art who’ve scheduled to run the story of the Telluride installation tomorrow.  Good looking out Steve + Jaime.

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step close

mash up in flagstaff

corn

Talking about corn and climate change.  The text reads “The Diné (Navajo) word for sweet corn is naa dáá which is a large grain plant first domesticated by indigenous peoples in Mexico[1] about 10,000 years ago.  Beginning about 2500 BC, the crop spread through much of the Americas.[6] The region developed a trade network based on surplus and varieties of maize crops.  After European contact with the Americas in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, explorers and traders carried maize back to Europe and introduced it to other countries. Maize spread to the rest of the world because of its ability to grow in diverse climates.

And what is the future of maize and other crops in the southwest as the planet warms?  The Southwest is the hottest and driest region in the United States, where the availability of water has defined its landscapes, history of human settlement, and modern economy.  Severe and sustained drought will stress water sources, already over-utilized in many areas, forcing increasing competition among farmers, energy producers, urban dwellers, and plant and animal life for the region’s most precious resource.  Agriculture, a mainstay of the regional and national economies, faces uncertainty and change. The Southwest produces more than half of the nation’s high-value specialty crops, including certain vegetables, fruits, and nuts. The severity of future impacts will depend upon the complex interaction of pests, water supply, reduced chilling periods, and more rapid changes in the seasonal timing of crop development due to projected warming and extreme events.”

me installing jamison

jamison 2

margeaux bestard

Jamison + his dog at the Boiler Room Studio in Flagstaff

klee + princess in the mission by (aniduhh)

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Klee + Princess in the Mission, San Francisco outside Galería de la Raza coinciding with their “For the People” show.  The full backstory on this piece “What we do to the mountain we do to ourselves” will appear on the blog Brooklyn Street Art tomorrow.  And how can you not love Brooklyn Street Art when they love you more everyday?

adios + gracias hermano

the-raven

I started the Painted Desert Project in 2012 uncertain how long it would go.  A friend at the time warned me to watch out.  “Once street artists hear about this project you’ll start getting requests from all over and it’ll get out of control,” he said.  Fortunately, this hasn’t happened.  However, one such random request came early in 2013.  I’d invited the Argentinian artist Ever to come paint.  He really wanted his friend Alexis Diaz to join him for the two weeks he’d be here.  Alexis contacted me and I told him I work on a shoe string budget and didn’t have the funds to get him out in 2013 and that I’d work to get him out in 2014.  He responded saying he really wanted to come and was willing to pay his own way from San Juan, Puerto Rico.  I couldn’t argue with that.

I knew of Alexis’ work with the surrealist Puerto Rican duo La Pandilla and though I dug their work, I was concerned that his animal/human hybrid forms would be considered anathema in the traditional and Christian conservative setting of the reservation.  buffalobearFor example, I was told last summer by an older man from the community of Bitter Springs that the buffalo/bear power piece (so named because the buffalo and bear are power symbols within the culture and have examples of manmade power sources on their backs – power lines, a windmill and the smoke stacks of the Navajo Generating Station), was considered evil.  IMG_6222“It’s seen as unnatural, like homosexuality.” I’d already been ruminating on what it means to attempt to introduce an art form not common to the traditional community of the reservation and how best to do this.  I wasn’t following the model of public art community of holding community meetings to explain the project or the work and to get their consent although I was getting the approval of wall owners to create art in that space.  I figured I’d have this conversation with Alexis once he arrived.

Alexis came in May of 2013.  His time here coincided with Ever, Brian Barneclo and Ann Van Hulle, art historian and Roa’s business partner.  When I think of Alexis I think of a cuddly teddy bear (although Ever teases him relentlessly about looking like a monkey, especially when he sleeps).  He possesses the most affable and personable spirit I know.  Being around him is to laugh constantly.  the-crewI talked with him about the philosophy of jazz and the act of creating in the moment inspired by one’s surroundings.  ann, alexis + nico I actually told him this before he came and asked that he not come with a preconceived idea of what he was going to paint.  He said this was the first time he’d been asked to approach painting this way.  A year later when I spent 3 weeks with him in Perth, Australia at a street art festival in 2014 he thanked me for pushing him out of his comfort zone saying his practice now is to wait until he gets to a place before deciding what he’s going to paint.

The first week Alexis worked in Antelope Hills along Highway 89 about 20.  His site had a lot of visibility as anyone traveling north from Flagstaff would pass his work.  I wasn’t sure what he was going to paint.  In truth, I don’t think he knew what he was going to paint until he spent some time hanging out at his vacant billboard.  Ever was working on a wall in Gray Mountain, about 10 miles from Alexis’ site.  They shared the ride and would leave from my house early in the morning.  Alexis’ style involves working with a fine brush doing small cross strokes and he’d work until darkness descended often illuminating the billboard with my car headlights.  The first day Ever and Alexis went out to paint they returned to my house at 11:30 p.m.  Uncertain of the roads they’d missed a key turnoff to my house in the pitch blackness of the reservation night.  Regardless, Ann stayed up and prepared a meal for them and heard stories of their adventures from the day.  She did this for them each night.  I was thankful for the small community of kindred spirits invading my house.  It took Alexis 4 days working 10 hours a day to get the raven up.  antelope-hills-in-progress-(enhanced)painting-antelope-hillsWorried that the Anglo proprietor of the trading post might have an issue with his hybrid figure I asked Alexis what she thought of the piece.  He said she liked it.  Once the piece was complete I stopped by and talked with the proprietor about the billboard.  Her name is Chris.  She became emotional talking about the painting because she felt Alexis had been guided by a spirit and the piece spoke directly to her in that she had a sculpture in the store someone had given to her of a raven.  She identified the raven as her power animal.

 

the raven

 

The raven with the human hand became immediately iconic.  For the past 2 and 1/2 years whenever I’d leave Flagstaff heading home I loved seeing this piece.  Although I knew it was there, seeing it maintained a feeling of surprise.  The raven owned the space like it belonged there.

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I noticed a couple weeks ago that it had acquired a serious northward lean.  Winds on the Colorado Plateau can get up to 70mph but I wasn’t worried.  So it was with great surprise and sadness when I came over the pass from Flagstaff yesterday and looked for my familiar landmark only to realize it had succumbed to the wind.  It’s time had come.  I stopped at the trading post to ask Chris when this happened and whether she was going to replace the billboard.  She confirmed that strong winds earlier in the week felled it and that the company who owns the trading post won’t be replacing it.  “The roof leaks and needs to be replaced and all they keep telling me is to patch it up,” she said.  With sadness she reminisced on all the people who’ve stopped over the years to photograph the piece.  And so it goes…

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Gracias por el amor hermano.  You touched many souls.

jetsonorama

I called a fellow physician in Tuba City about a month ago to get his guidance.  I had a patient coming down off a several week binge who was open to inpatient rehab.  Despite my being here 28 plus years I wanted to confirm with my friend who has been working on the rez 30 years that despite there being high rates of drug and alcohol use on the reservation there’s still no treatment facilities.  I was hoping the resources had appeared miraculously under my radar.  Sadly, he confirmed that we’ve got new jails in Tuba City and Kayenta to temporarily detain people for public intoxication but no rehabilitation centers. Yet, the Navajo nation and indigenous people in general have one of the highest suicide rates in the country which often occurs under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. It’s a problem that’s been well documented.

“The game of life is hard to play.

I’m going to lose it anyway.

The losing card I’ll someday lay.

So this is all I have to say…

That suicide is painless.

It brings on many changes.

And I can take or leave it if I please.”

MASH theme song by Johnny Mandel

 

Case in point.  I’ve know Josie since shortly after I arrived in 1987.  I’ve taken care of her in her pregnancies, am watching her kids grow up and was with her on that hot, windy day in June of 1994 when she walked down the aisle for the first time, her father at her side while her sister secured her dress.

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When I went to her in 2011 with the idea of photographing her infant daughter JC for a campaign to raise awareness on CO2 emissions she and her husband Hank were there for me.

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Her oldest son Kordell attended high school in Tuba City.  He competed against my son Jamaal who attended school in Page. Josie and I talked often about how our boys were doing.  She told me that Kordell enjoyed competing against Jamaal who made him play harder, play his best.

Talking with Josie now a year after Kordell shot himself at age 16 it sounds like she could see it coming.  Despite their best efforts Kordell didn’t heed his parents interventions.  Though the reservation is dry, drugs and alcohol are plentiful.  Now it’s Josie’s mission to raise awareness regarding drug and alcohol use while trying to get the tribe to build a rehabilitation center. She realizes the problem is multifaceted – that the education system needs a robust overhaul, after school programs need to be created and sustained, youth centers are needed and meaningful work is missing on the reservation where the unemployment rate hovers around 50%.  Despite the odds she feels it’s what she’s being called to do.  She doesn’t want Kordell’s death to be in vain though 2 other suicides occurred in the family shortly after Kordell’s.  Yet she remains positive.

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1. jc-getting-her-hair-braided

 

2. josey-breastfeeding

 

3.--hands

 

4.--my-girl-jc

 

7.--family-3

 

5.--family-1

 

6.--family-2

There’s work to be done; the struggle continues.  Stay tuned…

it only got up to 23 degrees today

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santa outside tuba city

 

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lola

 

 

luci's trailer

Luci’s trailer on Christmas Day

 

It only got up to 23 degrees today.  Not only was it cold, it was windy as shit.  All day.  Cold + windy.  As I was driving from the rez into Flagstaff I was thinking of the effort Klee Benally is making to distribute warm clothing and blankets to indigenous folks staying outside in the winter.  His campaign is called No More Native Deaths (I think.)  As I was driving I remembered seeing the last time I was in town a Diné friend who has fallen on hard times and who is living outside in Flagstaff now.   I wondered if he’s staying at the mission in town.

I made it to Flagstaff and was running errands when I encountered the friend I’d been worrying about.  He was dressed in many layers on this cold + windy day when the temperature only got up to 23 degrees.  His speech was slurred and he had a swagger in his step.  I gave him a hug telling him:

“I’d been was just thinking about you in this cold weather as I drove in from the rez.  Are you staying at the mission” I asked.

He confirmed that he’s not staying at the mission.  I told him about Klee’s campaign and that I worried about him living outside now to which he replied:

“5 people have already frozen to death this week.”

He said he wanted help with some food.  My friend with whom I’d just eaten and I had some nice leftovers and shared those. He thanked us, we hugged again and went our separate ways into a wind that cut like a knife.

building community

“The war of an artist with his society is a lover’s war and he does at his best what lover’s do which is to reveal the beloved to himself and with that revelation to make freedom real.”      James Baldwin

When I started wheat pasting large images along the roadside in 2009 I imagined it as an opportunity to deepen my relationship with the community where I work on the rez.  I often thought of this process as an experiment in building community in which I knew the medium for building community but was uncertain of the outcome.  What I’ve learned along the way is the importance of trust and how the process of building community parallels nurturing a friendship.

As a documentary photographer I believe everyone has a unique story though not everyone wants their story told.  But for those who do a trusting relationship established over time with the story teller is critical to an objective telling of this story.  I’ve learned inadvertently that taking someone’s words and writing or painting them directly onto their face is akin to the exercise of falling backwards trusting that the person positioned behind you will really catch you and prevent you from hitting the floor.  Unlike writing onto a photograph of someone’s face, spending 30 to 60 minutes sitting 18 inches away from someone you may not know well exploring the contours of their face, their lips, gently writing on their eyelids is a bonding, trust building exchange.  That someone would let you do this, photograph them and create a public mural is tangible evidence of their conviction to their beliefs, to their words.  As James Baldwin said, they are willing to reveal the beloved to himself and with that revelation make freedom real.

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Rey Cantil painting the words of Flagstaff activists onto their faces regarding the controversial practice of using reclaimed waste water to make artificial snow on a sacred mountain.

 

klee + princess

 

john, sam + step

 

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ladies 2

ladies 3

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The experiment in community building is ongoing.  I continue falling backwards believing someone will be there to catch me. And while I don’t want to be known as the guy who writes on people’s face, it is an effective tool for getting a heartfelt message out.  Thank you to the community for trusting me with your words and joining me in this adventure.

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