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Environmental message: Artist’s work focuses on energy industry’s effects on indigenous people

Marina Eskeets’ art has a message.

The conceptual artist grew up in Naná’áztiin, on the Navajo Nation.

It was the area that helped her get a different sense of life on the reservation.

She would herd her grandmother’s sheep in the region that is directly affected by the Church Rock uranium disaster.

On the morning of July 16, 1979, one of two mill tailing ponds breached, releasing 94 million gallons of acidic, radioactive tailing solution into the Rio Puerco. The Navajo Nation asked then-Gov. Bruce King to seek federal disaster assistance, but the request was denied. Three years later, all facilities closed and the site was abandoned. United Nuclear Corp. did not clean up the spill. It was the largest release of radioactive material in U.S. history.

It’s no surprise that Eskeets’ work is centered on energy extraction within Dinétah, or Navajo lands, and the repercussions it has had on indigenous identity.

“With my art, I feel that I can inform my own community about what’s happening,” she says. “It’s pretty cool that I get to show my work. It’s all about the kind of stuff that goes below the radar. It’s trying to be informative. I’m observing from a real place, watching what’s going on and helping my own community see what’s happening.”

Eskeets received a bachelor’s degree in fine arts in 2016, with a major in studio arts, at Santa Fe University of Art and Design.

She was also a SITE Scholar at SITE Santa Fe.

Eskeets employs a wide range of fine art and photography mediums and techniques to express her ideas.

“Rabble 3” by Marina Eskeets. (Courtesy of Marina Eskeets)

Her works have included video projection onto a traditional Diné weaving loom, three-dimensional cardboard churro sheep skull masks used in an interactive performance in the downtown streets of Gallup and embroidered illustrations onto deerskin.

“I consider myself a studio artist,” she says. “I think I’ve been around artists my whole life. My dad and uncle used to draw pretty good. This is where I got interested in drawing. But when I was growing up, I really wanted to be an auto mechanic. One of my teachers told me to apply myself in art. I fell into it. Now, I’m so glad to be able to make creative work. It’s something that I enjoy diving into.”

Eskeets says that when she got to SFUAD, she was afforded the opportunity to grow as an artist.

“I didn’t know what art was and how people use it,” she says. “Being at SFUAD gave me access to a lot of different mediums. I didn’t know anything about photography. That’s how I learned about it. They gave me a lot of different tools to tell my stories.”

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