Images from the Brooklyn Street Art blog post addressing uranium contamination on the Navajo nation also featuring work by Icy + Sot.
I was honored to be one of 2 artists in residence for the 2016 Telluride Mountain Film Festival. As stated on Wikipedia “…Held every Memorial Day weekend since 1979, Telluride Mountainfilm is a documentary film festival that showcases nonfiction stories about environmental, cultural, climbing, political and social justice issues in Telluride, Colorado. In addition to documentaries, the festival also brings together world-class athletes, change makers and artists via interactive discussions, free community events, a gallery walk, an all-day symposium, outdoor programming and presentations. Mountainfilm aims to educate, inspire and motivate audiences.”
Huffington Post article about my contribution.
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!
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.
mash up in flagstaff
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 about 10,000 years ago. Beginning about 2500 BC, the crop spread through much of the Americas. 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.”
Jamison + his dog at the Boiler Room Studio in Flagstaff
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?
The Navajo nation has an unemployment rate at about 50%. While the tribe is pursuing investment and job opportunities much of the land under consideration for development is contaminated with uranium from over 500 uncapped mines which deters businesses from investing. The companies who abandoned the mines in the 60s + 70s when the price and demand for uranium dropped aren’t legally bound to clean up their sites per mining laws from the 1800s when prospectors were mining for precious minerals.
Concerned with the possibility of accidental contamination by wandering into abandoned mine sites the EPA created a coloring book for grade school kids on the rez. The star is “Gamma Goat” who introduces himself saying “That’s right. I’m named after the most powerful form of radiation given off by uranium, gamma rays. I know how to stay away from areas where radiation may harm me and I’m here to teach you, your friends and family how to be safe too.” Meanwhile, contamination continues to affect the land, water, animals and humans.
jc at coconino center for the arts
thanks to travis iurato for arranging the wall.
backstory (as told to Ralf):
There is an art space in Brooklyn (BRIC) which hosts a once monthly poetry slam. The MC is poet and Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe poetry director, Mahogany L. Browne. BRIC will also be hosting the first night of the Women of the World Poetry Slam in March. I was invited to do a poetry themed mural for this event. I invited Sonia Sanchez to participate in the photo shoot with Mahogany L. Browne and based it on the Frida Kahlo painting “The Two Fridas.” However, this interpretation of that painting speaks to the migratory, trans Atlantic movement of the oral tradition + spoken word and it’s intergenerational manifestation as poetry. Mahogany + Sonia are presented as exemplars of the tradition.
Around the time of my father’s death in June 2006 I had an experience with a bird. I was outside at a friend’s condo and after 30 minutes on the phone with my dad I noticed a small bird in a nest who remained motionless and quiet with one eye riveted on me. My father implored me to come home to Raleigh with the words “come home son; dad is dying.” The moment was dramatic, confusing and ultimately true. I flew home the following day and spent 3 wonderful days with my dad before he underwent an outpatient procedure which led to his death as he never awoke from anesthesia. The bird resting quietly in it’s nest an arm’s length away from me as my dad told me of his condition represented a messenger spirit between the worlds of the living and the dead. The seagulls in the mural are signifiers of the freedom of movement across borders and communication with ancestral spirits. In honor of one of Sonia’s poems Jess and I titled the mural “We Be Darker than Blue” as it speaks to intergenerational sisterhood.
jess + i installing
sonia sanchez reading
sonia and mahogany
shout out to supa sister ursula rucker who facilitated meeting and getting to work with sonia sanchez
sonia seeing the mural for the first time
mahogany l. browne, ursula rucker + sonia sanchez
ian cozzens assisting; jess modeling
The setting for the mural is the Hungry Ghost cafe at Bric. Before doing the photo shoot with Sonia and Mahogany in January I watched a documentary called “BadDDD Sonia Sanchez” and was moved upon seeing Sonia’s old notebooks in which she wrote and edited poems. I asked her to bring a few of these to the shoot. It was magical as she’d not looked at these notebooks for some time. She flipped through pages remembering and sharing the stories that inspired the poems and discussed her process for creating poetry. These images of her hands engaging tangible memories appear on the front counter.
Thanks to everyone who helped make this project manifest – Mahogany L. Browne, Ursula Rucker, Sonia Sanchez, Jess X. Chen, Jennifer Gerow and the staff at Bric, Icy + Sot, Clara Darrason, Andrew Erdos + Ian Cozzens. I want to give a special shout out to Alexandria Johnson who reminded us all that good spirits are amongst us. Y’all made magic happen!
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.
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.
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.
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.
There’s work to be done; the struggle continues. Stay tuned…