Fine art

Wonder Woman redux

The indigenous heroes of Jolene Nenibah Yazzie emerging at the Harwood Museum

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Live mural-painting by artist Jolene Nenibah Yazzie is happening from Wednesday through Sunday this week (Jan. 17-21) at the Harwood Museum of Art, 238 Ledoux St.

As part of her “Sisters of War” exhibit in the museum's Peter & Madeleine Martin Gallery, Yazzie is returning to finish her more-than 10-foot-tall mural she’s painting on one of the Harwood’s upstairs-gallery walls, part of the “Work By Women” museum-wide exhibit planned Feb. 9 -May 10.

Yazzie is a perfect fit for the vision that guest curators Judith Kendall and Janet Webb had for selecting the work for this exhibit of female Taos artists. As noted in the curators’ statement for the show’s invitation: “It is time to look at the work of these artists through the lens of the ‘silence breakers’ era. It is time to recognize that women in Taos have been speaking their truths for decades – in paint, on film, in fiber, glass and stone.”

“I cannot stress how important it is to develop both as an artist and as a person,” Yazzie says in her artist statement. “I have always set very demanding goals for myself in both regards and my dedication to achieving my goals cannot be demonstrated more clearly than the amount of care and effort I put into all forms of artwork that I’ve explored. However, despite taking pride in all that I’ve accomplished so far, I am well aware that there’s still so much more that I have to do in order to accomplish the major goals I’ve set for myself, especially since, as I strive to do so, more aspirations arise and new dreams are developed. My artwork is such a major part of who I am that the development I undergo as a person has profound effects on how I express myself through my art.”

Yazzie grew up on the Navajo reservation at Lupton, Ariz. and is a graphic artist specializing in comic art who uses bright colors and contrast in her works. She studied visual communication at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, and is at Metropolitan State University of Denver to complete a bachelor degree in journalism.

Yazzie notes how she was impacted by Spiderman and Wonder Woman comics growing up – specifically her “powers, abilities, and her long black hair.” Through high school, she subsisted on a diet of comic books and thrasher skateboarding magazines.

Now an established artist and entrepreneur, Yazzie creates her own images of inspiration – Navajo women warriors and heroes, “as symbols of strength, survival and womanhood,” a justice league of their own, often sporting Wonder Woman’s red star.

“Life’s lessons and experiences continue to provide me with the opportunity to express my artistic nature through different mediums and as such I’ve been able to go beyond anything I ever thought I was capable of,” Yazzie writes. “Starting out, I used pencil drawings to recreate images of heroes that inspired me in one way or another. From there, I’ve explored painting, graffiti, watercolors, graphic design, film and most recently photography, to not only develop those heroes of my youth, but also to create original ones of my own. It’s in this way that my development as a person has been directly linked to my growth as an artist.”

Her red-and-black thematic is an edgy, stylish and dramatic expression of indigenous women as warriors, a strongly countercultural statement long overdue by any account.

“Now I’m excited by the opportunities provided by combining all mediums, and the new possibilities this will present for developing my artwork as I push myself to new limits,” Yazzie adds. “It is through my artwork that I’ve managed to play a leadership role not only in my community, but outside it as well, for I’ve used it to express a strong conviction that challenges the modern conventional definitions of the role of indigenous women. I strive to express in my artwork the beauty of creation and the inner warrior spirit found in all women that is not often appreciated or recognized by the euro-centric society that has transformed traditional values.

“In this way, I’ve not only been able to develop confidence in myself, but I’ve been able to show other women how to recognize and appreciate the strength that is present inside themselves as well. I’ve tried to create, through my characters, positive role models for females of all ages that serve to reestablish respect and admiration for the power and beauty inherent in them and in nature.

“It has been an accomplishment that has not been easy to achieve and an aspiration that continues to bring me face-to-face with more obstacles the more I pursue it. I’ve had to overcome many personal as well as artistic obstacles to get to where I am today and I know there will be many more.”

Some of her characters represent family and community members who have overcome abuse, neglect, rape and other atrocities so common in the world, and especially, she says, in the lives of indigenous women.

“Most of my characters are women who I’ve loved at one point or another, women who’ve also inspired me with their own personal stories of struggle as well, but women who’ve also broken my heart at the same time. Each time I create a new piece, I push myself to uphold my values and convictions and test the limits of my comfort to convey a deeper message to those who see my work,” she writes.

While a complete preview of the “Work By Women” of Taos exhibit will be published closer to the February opening, Yazzie’s mural-making this week gives us the rare opportunity to see her work and process in person for the next couple days. Be sure to check it out.

For more information about Yazzie, see joleneyazzie.com and facebook.com/people/Jolene-Yazzie/1430137033

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