Artist examines changing times for Native people, including distance from food sources - Albuquerque Journal

Artist examines changing times for Native people, including distance from food sources

Ehren Kee Natay works on a watercolor painting in preparation for an open studio and presentation at the School for Advanced Research. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)
Ehren Kee Natay works on a watercolor painting in preparation for an open studio and presentation at the School for Advanced Research. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

In his search for his own identity, Ehren Kee Natay has found answers both in hip-hop and Native American cultures.

They, in turn, find expression in his art, some of which reflects his concerns about a lost connection to the land, to the corn and water that have sustained Native cultures in the Southwest for centuries.

“URBN NDN” (Urban Indian), an acrylic painting consisting of two panels, shows a three-eyed humanoid spray-painting clouds into existence; they shed tears as the painter holds a lollipop, symbolic of how our consumption of corn has evolved to corn syrup in sweets, Natay said.

This is an untitled piece by Ehren Kee Natay (Kewa/Diné), whose work draws on both Native and hip-hop cultures. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)
This is an untitled piece by Ehren Kee Natay (Kewa/Diné), whose work draws on both Native and hip-hop cultures. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Raised and currently residing in Santa Fe, son of a Kewa/Diné father and a German/Irish mother, Natay notes that he’s an urban Indian himself. He also is the current Rollin and Mary Ella King Native Artist Fellow at the School for Advanced Research, a three-month period of study and work that ends for him Dec. 1.

He will give a talk about his work at 5:30 p.m. Thursday and open his studio to visitors at SAR, 660 Garcia St.

Much of that work during his fellowship has involved research and discovery, spent in the library or talking with others, rather than at the drawing board – which might explain why he’s hard at work now producing some art for visitors to see, he said.

Natay explained the theme of his explorations during a recent interview in the SAR studio.

“I started looking at feast days,” a tradition shared within Native communities but often including outside visitors. “But I was looking at things through a different lens,” Natay continued. He started thinking about how much food was wasted, and “I looked at what was on the table and started thinking about traditional foods.”

In most cases, he said, those foods were pretty good, sustaining a healthy life.

These days, he said, if you put a seed in people’s hands, they won’t know where to put it or how to nurture it to feed their families. Give them a $100 bill, though, and they know all about going to the grocery store – where many of the aisles are filled with products that past generations wouldn’t have even recognized as food.

“We’re losing our connection with that plant, the whole connection and obligation to the earth,” he said, pointing to the symbiotic relationship between humans and corn. “We watch after each other.”

Ask people who turn on the faucet where their water has been and they usually have no idea, he said. But once Pueblo people carried their water home in buckets and bowls and knew exactly where the source was.

“There’s such a disconnect with our provisions,” Natay said. “This is a thing that really has to be talked about, the need to have the knowledge and pass it down about how to be at one with nature.”

While he respects and wants to find a way to incorporate those traditions into daily life, Natay also has his feet firmly planted in contemporary street culture. He has worked a lot with spray paint and graffiti styles, commenting, “Graffiti says a lot about our culture and what is important to Americans. It’s a toxic, explodable, flammable form of art.”

He studied drumming, “went the punk route,” and joined a band that toured Washington state and the Southwest, he said. “I started to see that we probably weren’t going to make it,” he said and, searching for another creative way to support himself, left his Las Vegas, Nev., residence of the time and returned to New Mexico.

Ehren Kee Natay (Kewa/Diné) holds the two panels for “URBN NDN” in the studio where he is working under a fellowship at the School for Advanced Research. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)
Ehren Kee Natay (Kewa/Diné) holds the two panels for “URBN NDN” in the studio where he is working under a fellowship at the School for Advanced Research. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

He studied art-making – silver-smithing and pottery – in traditional Native forms at the Poeh Art Center at Pojoaque Pueblo. At the same time, he became more involved in hip-hop culture and with Dancing Earth. “I’m coming into the company as a martial artist, so I’m gravitating to break-dancing,” Natay said. “It’s a high-energy, aggressive form of dance.”

Hip-hop culture is a place where he has found acceptance, he said, where people from all backgrounds come together over music, dance, art and more that express what they find important in life and what needs to change in society.

Growing up mixed-race, he said, he often felt rejected by people on both sides of the racial divide. “Thankfully, I had a very supportive family and a very supportive art community,” Natay said. “More and more, I’m having confidence in who I am and where I come from … .

“I hope in 200 years people can look back at my works and say this is what Native people were going through in such a transitionary period,” he continued. “I’m documenting my experience, trying to find a balance with both (cultures).”

Home » Entertainment » Arts » Artist examines changing times for Native people, including distance from food sources


Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email yourstory@abqjournal.com

taboola desktop

1
True Story House provides listeners with songs about real ...
Arts
Band is set to release first ... Band is set to release first full-length album this fall
2
Santa Fe Opera wins international recognition as 'Festival of ...
ABQnews Seeker
The International Opera Awards named the ... The International Opera Awards named the artistic nucleus just north of Santa Fe 'Festival of the Year' at a ceremony in Madrid, Spain.
3
Artist Sandro Gebert's 'Ideogramer' an homage to street artists
Arts
'Ideogramer' will hang at Santa Fe's ... 'Ideogramer' will hang at Santa Fe's Gebert Contemporary through Dec. 31.
4
Looking at the New Mexico heroines that left their ...
Arts
Photographs of five women are on ... Photographs of five women are on the cover of 'New Mexico Heroines of the Twentieth Century' and they are a multicultural sample of the ...
5
Named for San Ignacio, church has called Santa Barbara-Martineztown ...
Arts
Just west of Interstate 25, San ... Just west of Interstate 25, San Ignacio Catholic Church sits within the Santa Barbara-Martineztown neighborhood minutes away from Albuquerque High School.
6
SF poet Arthur Sze awarded honor for lifetime achievement
Arts
Arthur Sze was awarded the Ruth ... Arthur Sze was awarded the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, which is given out by the Poetry Foundation in October.
7
Buen Vieje returns to the North Fourth Arts Center ...
Arts
North Fourth Art Center resident company ... North Fourth Art Center resident company Buen Viaje Dance is back with two performances at 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10, and 2 p.m. Sunday, ...
8
Upstart Crows to perform 'A Christmas Carol' resplendent in ...
Arts
The Upstart Crows will stage their ... The Upstart Crows will stage their own annual readings of the classic Christmas fable on Dec. 17, 23 and 25 in Santa Fe.
9
New Mexico Gay Men's Chorus singing 'Scrooge!' with a ...
Arts
Based on the 1970 film musical ... Based on the 1970 film musical of the same name, 'Scrooge!' will play at the Lensic Performing Arts Center in Santa Fe on Friday, ...