ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Melanie Yazzie, a widely recognized Navajo printmaker-sculptor, inaugurates a biennial solo exhibition series of indigenous artists at the University of New Mexico Art Museum next weekend.
The series will present indigenous artists from across the globe.
“I did want to start with someone from the American Southwest,” said Lisa Tamiris Becker, museum director and exhibition curator. “Not only is Melanie Yazzie an incredibly dynamic, compelling and significant artist of Navajo/Diné heritage, but she is known for her work as a printmaker and as a sculptor.”
The inaugural exhibit, with more than 70 pieces of art, is subtitled “Geographies of Memory.” Becker said the phrase is a “poetic, evocative title to conjure up many different meanings and types of geographies from literal maps to geographies of the body, of the mind … layered together.”
“I see the whole exhibit in a sense as a larger self-portrait of my beginning art and coming over these many years into a mature place,” Yazzie, a professor of art at the University of Colorado, said in a phone interview.
“I’m really proud of how (the exhibit) came together. … This is really an important step in my career.”
She thinks that all the traveling she’s done to different places in the world has influenced her work. Yazzie left her home in Ganado, Ariz., to attend a Quaker boarding school in Pennsylvania, where she had a teacher who taught her printmaking. When she was in undergraduate school, she traveled to Berlin before the wall came down in 1987.
“That experience,” Yazzie said, “opened my eyes to the history of that part of the world. Later, I taught in France, traveled to Italy.”
She also has spent time in Mexico, Canada, in Alaska above the Arctic Circle, in Japan, in Russia and a lot of time in New Zealand.
Some of the art in the exhibit – a survey of Yazzie’s art over the last 20 years – reflects her collaborations with indigenous communities in Siberia and in Finland and her experience with the Maori people in New Zealand, Becker said.
After graduate school, Yazzie taught at the Santa Fe-based Institute of American Indian Arts for six years.
“I think what was interesting about IAIA,” she said, “is that there were so many Native American students from across the United States and seeing people from distinct cultures and backgrounds. But we had similar experiences, having gone through boarding school, in a sense a loss of culture, then regaining it and finding strength with each other.”
The retrospective exhibit, she said, “is a major event in my life.” It’s important to her for a number of reasons:
- It includes art from her personal collection that she’s never exhibited and that “really gets to the core of who I am.”
- It is geographically close enough for her family and friends in Arizona to view her art. “As a child growing up, Albuquerque was the big city for us,” she said.
- It is on the UNM campus where many Native American students attend and where the Tamarind Institute of lithography is located.
- And that her father, Albert A. Yazzie, will offer a blessing at the Friday, Feb. 7 opening reception. The Main Gallery exhibit is officially up from Saturday, Feb. 8 through May 17.
Yazzie will give a short gallery talk at the Friday, Feb. 7 opening reception. She will also give a free lecture on March 25 on her art at the museum.
She said the exhibit catalog will probably be published in a few months. Art critic-writer-curator Lucy Lippard, a longtime role model for her, has written an introduction for the catalog, Yazzie said.