life with the navajo through images, words + wheat paste.
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
flash of insight...
i'm prepping hard now for the upcoming contemporary printmaking exhibition at east carolina university. i'm really excited about the pieces i'll be putting up. while walking over pieces, cutting them out, observing the tones of the images, it occurred to me that perhaps my contribution to building community through art isn't so much in the art itself but in helping people get the skills to express themselves in this medium. wheat pasting workshops can be a tool of empowerment.
boom. fe real. i guess that's why it's called marxist glue.
Meanwhile, I finally made it back to Bitter Springs yesterday to get an images up on Lorenzo's mom's bead stand. (http://speakingloudandsayingnothing.blogspot.com/2010/07/revisiting-lorenzo-and-his-mom.html)
I'd stopped by 2 days earlier and they asked when I was going to put something on their space. I came equipped with paint and paste. When I first arrived, there was only Lorenzo's mom and one other vendor, a woman with disabling rheumatoid arthritis who was confined to a wheel chair. She mentioned she remembered seeing me there about a year ago when I first pasted Hosteeen Hank Nez late one summer's eve.
A vendor named Becky arrived and wanted to know if I was the one who's been pasting the western agency of the rez. She asked about the process and said that the vendors at Navajo Bridge over the Colorado River at Lee's Ferry want me to do work there. Becky called her kids and said "I found him - the guy who's been doing all the pictures."
As I explore what it means to build community through wheat pasting, yesterday was a nice indicator that I'm moving in the right direction.
Today was one of those days when I woke up in the mindset of seeing the glass as half empty. It is Friday the 13th afterall. The day encourages negative thinking. I awoke all too aware of the day's ominous promise. Yeah, ominous promise.
I left for Flagstaff (some 2 hours away), with a longer than usual laundry list of tasks I needed to accomplish. About 30 minutes into the trip my car started misbehaving. It's not fair. I bought it new is 2007 but that didn't stop it from jerking and accelerating slowly. I was bummed because I'd ordered a part (#4 fuel injector), and had it installed 3 weeks ago. Now, the same problem was back and worse than it was before. Nonetheless, I made it to town.
The car dealership told me that they won't be able to look at it until tomorrow and may not be able to start working on it until Tuesday when their other mechanic returns. It was Friday the 13th afterall.
Hungry as a big dog, I walked over to the Flagstaff Mall to get some food. While I was eating a young Navajo guy stopped me and said "...Excuse me sir.Are you the one who does the graffiti?" I told him I am. He said he and his family had pulled up to speak to me in Cameron back in February or March when I was putting Hosteen Hank Nez up on the water tank. I remembered them immediately. They were really nice. His daughter of about 4 years old was wearing a spring dress and what looked like an Easter bonnet. In fact, I wrote about that meeting in a blog posting shortly after meeting them. I imagined her getting ready for the Easter parade and that reminded me of getting new clothes and dressing up for Easter Sunday. (http://speakingloudandsayingnothing.blogspot.com/2010/03/outside-abbey-theater-durango-co-hanks.html)
The guy's name is Freddie. He said I have a good memory as, indeed, that's how his daughter was dressed that day. He went on to tell me that he's constructing a bead stand near the boundary line between the rez and the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. He's been selling jewelry for 20 years and is ready to give up, he said. Some days he's there all day and goes home with only 15 dollars. Now, he wants to just get walls up so I can put my wheat paste images up. He imagines tourists will stop to get their pictures taken there like he sees them doing in Cameron. Freddie thinks he can make more money doing this than selling jewelry.
I noticed that Freddie's eyes were bloodshot. Yet his speech wasn't slurred; however, he did repeat his plan with the bead stand several times. Before he left he said "...I feel bad doing this but I need some money and want to give you something in exchange for it." All he had was 15 pennies and offered me that. Remembering the conversation I'd had with him and his family in March as I was doing the installation, I told him I knew he is a good man and not to worry about it. I gave him $10. We shook hands and I told him I'll look him up to do the installations on his bead stand by the South Rim.
As I was leaving the mall I ran into Freddie again. He had a big smile on his face and proudly showed me a receipt from Wells Fargo. He'd just gone to the bank where he deposited 9 of the 10 dollars I gave him. He said he felt good that he did that for his family and didn't give into the temptation to go out and buy some alcohol which would have gotten him into more trouble.
He deposited 9 dollars for his family and is going to use the remaining dollar to hitchhike home and get some food.
Friday, the 13th.
This isn't Freddie. This image comes from the Kayenta Flea Market in 1994. The picture's got Freddie energy though.
One of the things I've become more sensitive to as a result of spending more time outdoors wheat pasting is subtleties in the weather. This past winter I longed for days with a temperature above 50 degrees F. Keeping my hands in wet wheat paste for a couple hours at less than 50 degrees was agony. This spring, as compared to last year, was much more windy. Not only were the winds stronger but we had more days of big winds than I remember having for some time; that on the heels of record amounts of snow this past winter.
The monsoon rains have been fierce this summer on the Colorado Plateau. They started a little later than normal but made up for it in quantity and ferocity. The Navajo recognize two types of rain. There's the gentle, nurturing rain that lasts less than 30 minutes known as a female rain. It's also called an "in-law chaser" in that when you're working in the cornfield bored to tears with an in-laws constant banter and the gentle rain starts, an unwanted inlaw who is visiting takes that as their cue to leave. Or at least that's how it was explained to me.
The skies this time of year are especially dramatic with heavy cumulus clouds with dark, threatening undersides. The lighting throughout the day is dramatic. By the afternoon these clouds coalesce to bring rain with big wind, thunder and lightening. These are known as male rains. They definitely aren't nurturing and are the rains responsible for flash flooding and erosion of the land.
Just this week the president of the Navajo Nation declared the reservation a disaster area as a result of flooding of low lying areas. I noticed that the number of people coming into the clinic thinned out a bit as well. Several patients said the dirt roads leading from their homes to the main road were so muddy that they were nearly impassable. Red mud from peoples shoes litters the clinic floor.
As I was driving home from Flagstaff this past weekend I stopped in Gray Mountain to see how the pastings I put up recently with Yote and Jorael were holding up. Not surprisingly, the south facing installations I put were were showing more wear than Yote's piece on the north side. I was bummed that this piece was going to have such a short life span but appreciated the ongoing lesson of being here now and letting go. That's what this project has been about - letting go.
At work the next day everything was placed into proper perspective when I learned that a co-workers 17 year old daughter was killed over the weekend during a thunder storm. Apparently the girl was visiting her cousin brother for the evening near her home in Kayenta. They were up late surfing the internet during an electrical storm. The girl, Kimberlie, was sitting with a laptop in her lap when a surge of electricity came through the trailer electrocuting her and her cousin brother. They were found the following morning by Kimberlie's aunt. Though unconscious, the boy was breathing still and was revived after 2 days in the intensive care unit in Flagstaff.
Kimberlie was to have started school in less than 2 weeks. This would have been her senior year. I didn't know her but know her mom fairly well. Her funeral service was small but moving. Kimberlie was a good student and a member of the cross country team. Last year she'd represented the Navajo Nation at an international track meet in Australia being the first in her family to travel abroad. Several of her friends shared humorous stories of time shared with Kimberlie. The laughter felt good and was a welcome relief from the grief and intensity of the moment. Everyone was trying to reconcile how a person so innocent and young was snatched away so soon. It just doesn't make sense.
I was moved by the show of support for the family, by the love from friends and family. In the end, that's all that matters. Thanks Kimberlie for this lesson.