This gallery contains 12 photos →
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
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…
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!
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. For 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. “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. I talked with him about the philosophy of jazz and the act of creating in the moment inspired by one’s surroundings. 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. Worried 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 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.
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…
Gracias por el amor hermano. You touched many souls.
with jeff wilson + clara bensen
Artist Nils Westergard painted a mural in the fall of 2013 of a young man (Calvin Smith), from the community of Inscription House. Last spring there was a day when the wind gusted up to 70 miles/hour resulting in several panels of the mural being blown off. With great effort a friend and I repaired the painting. (Thanks Stella!) The same thing happened this spring; however, before being blown off a second time the piece was tagged by the Route 16 Lost Boyz.
I wanted to interact with Nils’ original piece and found a one of my favorite photos of Calvin Smith’s nephew, Owen + attempted to create a dynamic between them where they’re considering their futures. Thanks to Jeff Wilson, Clara Bensen, Daniel Fararra + Nils Aucante for an amazing day!
thanks to artist andrew erdos for turning me onto this piece by jazz-minh moore included in her show at claire oliver gallery, nyc.
just dropped! “i am the change” (otherwise known as “stephanie on parched earth”).
19 x 25, hand pulled screen print on archival paper printed by the good folks at ocelot print shop in detroit, mi. support the painted desert project to help get art on the roadside on the navajo nation for $50 including shipping.