As a contemporary Navajo artist my work stretches from the stereotypical cliches of token Indians. My work is inspired by a variety of subjects such as protests, empire, the everyday dichotomy that colonized people carry. A sort of Navajo worldview lives in my artwork. This indigenous lens often guides my political agenda. My work is based on experiences as my Indigenous self and my urbanized self, which are always clashing. Through this contention, I make and understand my art.
Using a variety of mediums such as paint, printmaking, video and conceptual based work, I explore different ways to create art using non-traditional methods. I make art to challenge colonial ideas that are so detrimental to Indigenous peoples. At the same time it acts as social commentary bridging ideas and experiences from the contemporary Indigenous reality.
Navajo concepts of Hozho and K’e are the foundation of my beliefs as a human and an artist. Hozho is the beauty and harmony in the way you live your life. K’e relates to your relationship with your people, nature, and all of creation. My work is starting to gravitate around concepts of sustainability and ecology. Native peoples cultures are tied to the land. We are the land. It’s up to us to define who we are rather then the outsider defining us. Through my art I hope to push ideas of Indigenous self determination so we can be our own masters of our own future.
Navajo Protest Artists Arrested
On September 19th, 2011 @ 6:00 a.m. Thomas Greyeyes (Dine) and Elizabeth Grace Miles (San Carlos Apache) were arrested by Flagstaff Police for creating a street art installation that used organic sustainable materials.
The project used dirt, mud, and corn stalks to make site specific Installations that would bring attention to the highly controversial San Francisco Peaks (waste-water snow) issue. Flagstaff police cited the individuals for criminal damage.
The mainstream media has already misquoted Greyeyes and Miles in various publications lumping them in with other acts of protest. City officials immediately destroyed the art installations with a water hose, broom and dustpan. By 10:00 a.m. there was no trace of any art having ever been placed in public.
Greyeyes is currently majoring at ASU (Tempe) in Intermedia Arts. One of his current art assignments was called ” Without A Trace”. An assignment about making art that would not leave any trace in a community or public space.
He further explains his actions/artwork: “As a creative person, I thought of ways in which I could express my feelings for the Peaks issue. I felt the need to express our own native perspective and show the beauty in that. I wanted to make something that is conceptually and visually strong. Art is often considered to be something to hang on a wall. I was thinking in other ways that could be more powerful. I wanted to merge ideas of culture, protest, and art into one message. I needed to create something that would celebrate the relationship Indigenous people have with the land, our home.”
Grace Miles is an artist, musician of Apache /Navajo heritage and comes from a family of artists. She had strong feelings about the art installation as well and it’s message. Grace Miles added, “We did it for the love. For the people, for the land and for us. We’re artists, we make art, we’re the voice of the people, it’s what we do…”
According to Greyeyes, Dine activist, artist, and student, he felt his actions were necessary because the peaks issue was very close to his heart. He wanted to inspire other people to keep standing up for the Peaks, (a sacred place to 13 different tribes). He also wanted to describe through his art: ” the spirit and fight for protection of sacred Native sites is still with us.”
In recent months, twenty-eight (28) individuals have been arrested for various forms of civil disobedience. All actions of resistance have to been to halt the development (sky expansion and development related to artificial snow making) on the San Francisco Peaks.