Weaver aims to bring traditional symbol back to Diné art
Recent article in Gallup Independent by Arlyssa Becenti explores Ziindi’sCh’ikeeh Baa Hozho Contemporary Native Female Arts Showcase at the Navajo Nation Museum
By Arlyssa Becenti
Diné Bureau firstname.lastname@example.org
WINDOW ROCK — Navajo Textile Artist Melissa Cody stood next to her brightly colorful Navajo rugs that depict the infamous swastika symbol — a symbol most people don’t realize was used by Navajo rug weavers way before the World War II era.
As a fourth generation rug weaver and young Diné female artist, Cody has incorporated the symbol, which is called the whirling log or whirling wind, into her weaving inorder to reclaim a symbol that was never meant to be considered taboo.
“The work I’m doing incorporates these symbols. It’s a body of work that I’m doing to reclaim our old symbols,” Cody explained. “These symbols were once perverted at one time. It’s all right to identify with them and use them in our ways.”
Cody’s body of work is just one of the 60 art pieces from 14 different Native American female artists that are on exhibit at the Navajo Nation Museum. The new exhibit opened Feb. 15, and Navajo Nation
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Brian Leddy/Independent At top, Melissa Cody is one of the female artists featured in a recent art opening at the Navajo Nation Museum.
Independent file photo
Above, textile artist Melissa Cody gives a weaving demonstration in July 2011.
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Museum Director Manuelito Wheeler described it as “a long time coming.”
“It should be obvious as a matriarchal society for us to be doing a show like this,” Wheeler said. “We wanted to focus on an all-female contemporary art show here at the Navajo Nation Museum. Here at the museum we affect people’s lives and change people’s views to see the world a lot differently.”
Collaborating with the publication Ziindi, based in Phoenix, Wheeler said the museum was able to get most of the female artist showcased in the independent zine to bring their work to the museum. Navajo/Xicana artist Nanibah “Nani” Chacon, who has had her work showcased in Ziindi, was also in attendance at the opening of the Navajo Nation Museum exhibit, which included her paintings and a 10-by-22-foot art installation. A former graffiti artist, Chacon is exhibiting her paintings of Native women across the United States.
“I primarily do female figurative work. I wanted to create an archetype of Native women in contemporary cultures,” Chacon said. “I think this exhibit is monumental in the fact that they’ve brought together contemporary Native artists who are all women, which isn’t a very common thing to come by and that they are all supporting it from all different facades, from emerging to established, to painters, graphic artists, weavers, photographers. They are approaching it from all different levels.”
Artists supporting artists
Navajo Nation Vice President Rex Lee Jim also showed his support for the exhibit and its artists. As a published poet, essayist, playwright and actor, Jim expressed how being an artist, whether through words or paint, takes much effort. He hopes the Navajo Nation will one day be innovative enough to open a performing arts school in order to gain more Navajo artists.
“We were talking about starting a school for performing and visual arts on the Navajo Nation,” Jim said. “We ask our kids to be doctors and lawyers, which is fine, but we need more artists. We need more actors, poets and painters. It’s the art world that defines a culture.”
Notable Navajo photographer Andrea Ashkie, who has her photos in an exhibit at the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology in Albuquerque, came with her husband Patrick Hubbell, a painter and also a wellknown figure in the Native art world, to the Navajo Nation Museum to view the work of the female artists.
“I really love her rugs. It’s rug making like I’ve never seen it before. It’s inspiring,” Ashkie said about Cody’s rugs. “I think this exhibit is empowering for women. Most of the time it seems like a majority of art shows exhibit males so it’s great to see works just by women.”
The Ch’ikeeh Baa Hozho Contemporary Native Female Arts Showcase at the Navajo Nation Museum features works from artists Jeri Arviso, Charvel Baldwin, Lyncia Begay, Nani Chacon, Xiana A. Clitso, Melissa Cody, Carrie R. Curley, Shamie Encinas, Estelle S. Pete, Lakota Scott, Roshan Spottsville, Eunique Yazzie, Jolene Yazzie, Melanie Yazzie and Venaya Yazzie. Information: (928) 871-7941.
The work of Jolene Yazzie, one of the female artists featured in a recent art opening at the Navajo Nation Museum.
Independent file photo
Jolene Yazzie poses with one of her unique skateboard creations in Gallup in May 2009.