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Fire and smashed Chinese vases combine in Navajo art installation

SANTA FE, N.M. — Shards of vases broken by Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei have been ground into dust and shipped to New Mexico to make a sand painting in Coyote Canyon on the Navajo Nation.

The installation of “Pull of the Moon,” a project of New Mexico Arts and the Navajo Nation Museum, takes place Saturday. It’s an invitation-only event, but a documentary film of the project will be shown next month in Santa Fe. Word is that, through digital magic, Ai will appear in the documentary, looking as if he’s walking through the canyon site, even though he hasn’t stepped foot in New Mexico.

Artist Bert Benally, who created the work in collaboration with Ai, said in a news release, “The concept is based on Navajo aesthetics, the idea that for the Navajo, art is more about the process than the finished project.”

“I think this is an interesting idea because we can only see ourselves, our past, through material evidence such as these shards,” Ai said in that release. “It is important to pass on to future generations where we are from and to give a glimpse of the mind and soul of the people living in that time.”

The collaboration may have had some hitches, though, because, rather than a common design, Ai and

Benally will have separate sand paintings side by side, with Benally’s involving night-time bonfires in the remote canyon.

As for those broken vases — Ai has contended they were precious ancient Chinese works that he destroyed, but no one seems to know for sure if that’s true.

This is Navajo artist Bert Benally's concept for "Pull of the Moon." (Image by xRez Studio Inc.)

This is Navajo artist Bert Benally’s concept for “Pull of the Moon.” (Image by xRez Studio Inc.)


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