Melanie Yazzie: Geographies of Memory

A couple of weeks ago, we have taken a visit to the Art Museum near Pope Joy of the University of New Mexico. I got my mind ready that day with a hearty breakfast and some chocolate, ready to absorb any information as we inspect artworks of varying significant degrees inside. I didn’t want to miss any pictures from artists of different time period.

That day in English, we head off from the classroom and off to the Art Museum. Some walked in a brisk pace, some not in a hurry and some were already there. For me, I was eager to explore the messages artists have put into a code. A painting is a painting, but minds can pick up codes left behind the author. When inspecting the codes deeply on a microscopic scale our minds can visualize, traces of data convey the author’s experience from everything including factual information, history, events, etc. It isn’t always obvious, but the code has crucial data to deliver.

My mother is also an artist who has been in expeditions in California and Vietnam. One art I can share from her is one piece about urban growth. Around the perimeter, there are tall buildings. In the middle, there are rural, single story structures surrounded by the “perimeter” of more, modern structures. As mother put the time to create this image of hers, she stated that humans should never forget their footsteps with progress. The rural houses in the center represented part of our history with architecture with the modern, tall buildings in our post-modern time period. It is keeping track of the passage of time.

Artists’ intention didn’t seem any different than from my mother. As we stepped foot into the museum, we were greeted by a lady who took us inside the place where all the visual collections lie. At first, I thought the class will go around finding which piece speaks to us. Instead, we sat down in front of four pieces arranged on the wall in a rectangle being given clipboards to write on a paper with the questions, “What I see, what I think and what I wonder.”

The four pieces we gaze upon belong to Melanie Yazzie. The artist librarian told us to sketch anything from what we see from the paintings.

Here is a photo of some of the elements I’ve sketched from the artist:


A brief description of those four paintings:

-Deer, centipede on its back with a winter landscape. There was a figure inside a woman’s body.

-Rainbows with arms sticking out. A giraffe and a goat can be seen. Spirals are craved.

-Spring season hails with a dragonfly in the background.

-A whole land with mountains and a warm season.

In a group with the lady who toured us, we looked and discuss some of the elements. Some elements included spirals, goat, human-like figures and, most importantly, geographical features.

As I inspected the “code” Melanie is leaving in these paintings, I can see a pattern of traveling across lands and seeing many organic objects coming together. She has pieced together human cultures and, more attentively, to the physical environments of the Earth. The history I can see here echoes back from her Navajo culture. As I wrote in my “What I think” column, I inferred that because of these physical, geographic themes, she must have traveled the world incorporating environmental features, symbols such as the spiral, and that time is vast.

As I interpreted my own thoughts, the passage of time never changes from centuries back to the modern time. We still have agriculture, nature and the vivid view of the Earth. I, myself, am adventurous and can travel the lands and probably piece together a pattern of these “referents” the artist has brought us. We celebrate these objects we pass by and keep them in our memory. It is but a taste of Indian artwork.

We eventually left the art history museum for our next class, much to our busy schedule in today’s world. But as stated earlier, time is vast. As we continue to move, we must inspect our surroundings. Soon, it will change, perhaps a car to flying car or floating cameras. We make progress, but we shouldn’t forget our early roots of success and how we worked from the ground up. Humans will continue to evolve, but there still is the pattern of memory through the land.


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