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Speaking truthfully: Santa Fe-based photographer, potter featured on ‘Craft in America’ series about identity

Cara Romero captures a portrait of her nephews. (Courtesy of PBS)

Cara and Diego Romero have each carved out their own niches in art.

Cara Romero as a photographer, Diego Romero as a potter.

Within their respective mediums, each is able to tell a story of identity.

This is why the two were chosen to be in “Craft in America: Identity” series, which premieres at 10 p.m. Friday, Dec. 27, on New Mexico PBS Channel 5.

The documentary series explores the beauty, significance and relevance of handmade objects and the artists who make them.

The episode featuring both Santa Fe-based artists looks at how we define ourselves: What combinations of work, ethnicity, nationality, family and heritage go into the sum of who we are?

“I wanted to do it because this is a pure and personal way to tell the story,” Cara Romero says. “The director met up with Diego first and then discovered that we are both artists and we have this very loving relationship.”

Diego Romero is known for his pottery, which often has a message about identity.

He is a member of Cochiti Pueblo.

“I am an Indian. I am a white man, too. Am I this white kid who grew up in Berkeley? Or am I this Johnny-come-lately, back-to-the-village, born-again Indian? I think I’m neither and I’m both,” he says.

Santa Fe-based potter Diego Romero sands a vessel for the series “Craft in America: Identity.” (Courtesy of Lissa Claffey)

Diego Romero makes art that transcends his Native American heritage by combining traditional materials, techniques and forms of ancient Mimbres, Anasazi and Greek pottery with comic book-inspired imagery, to talk about contemporary issues.

He is a self-proclaimed “chronologist on the absurdity of human nature,” whose comic narratives venture into taboo areas of politics, environment, racism, alcoholism, love, life and loss.

His trademark Chongo Brothers characters connect his work to Pop Art, inviting the viewer to look at Native Indian pottery in a new way.

His work is in the collection of the British Museum, among other world-class museums.

Meanwhile, Cara is a member of the Chemehuevi Indian Tribe of the Chemehuevi Reservation (a branch of the Southern Paiute) of the Mojave Desert in Californa.

She is outspoken on indigenous cultural and environmental issues.

Her complex and nuanced images combine traditional iconography with a contemporary perspective, bringing past, present and future into consideration. The artist orchestrates a balancing act in her photography by rewriting stories of Indian identity, battling cultural misappropriation, and confronting stereotypes, particularly of Native women, all the while preserving tradition and maintaining cultural sensitivity.

“Growing up on the reservation rests at the heart of who you are as a human being. It informs everything that you are, going forward in life,” Cara Romero says.

Cara Romero started in photography in 1998 and worked in black-and-white film as a cultural anthropology major.

“I wanted to tell a modern story of Native people,” she says. “Those stories are what makes us who we are today. These are the things that are very true to myself.”

“Craft in America” crews shot for about a week with each of the artists.

Both were comfortable with the process.

“It’s nice for someone to see my art,” Diego Romero says. “Getting a chance to speak about it is an added bonus. I kind of feel that I do say it with the art, but this gave me the opportunity to expand on my views.”

Diego Romero says working on his art is like putting a puzzle together.

“I have all these ideas in my head,” he says. “Some things are more important than others. Some are more relevant. Since I do historical, environmental and modern pueblo human narratives, I have all these subcategories as well.”

Cara Romero hopes the series will start and expand conversations about identity.

“I’m also excited for people to actually pronounce my tribe name,” she says.

SEND ME YOUR TIPS: If you know of a movie filming in the state, or are curious about one, email Follow me on Twitter @agomezART.

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