• Connie Byers


Updated: Apr 17, 2019

The Culture of the Navajo Nation in Living Color

Street art on the Navajo Nation. The Painted Desert Project.
Photo via This Unbound Life

The Culture of the Navajo Nation in Living Color

I've done this drive a hundred times at least. The drive between southern California and southwest Colorado. Weaving in and out of Route 66 as you make your way across California and into Arizona on the I 40. It's pleasant enough drive, but my favorite part comes in when I leave behind the Interstate with all its traffic and big rigs and turn off onto the 89. That small two-lane road that cuts through Arizona and into the Four Corners. As soon as I make it through Flagstaff and onto the 89 my heart feels whole.

As you enter into the Painted Desert the vistas become all at once breathtaking and humbling. Beauty as far as the eye can see. Sandstone cliffs and rock formations that feel otherworldly and then without warning, art splashes across your field of vision. And not just any art. Lifesize murals and giant photographs take up residence on otherwise abandoned buildings, from water tanks to roadside stalls, images of the Navajo Nations true beauty sit surrounded by the barren beauty of the desert landscape in perfect juxtaposition.

Where you might be asking did all art this come from? Well, it's called The Painted Desert Project, and it's the brainchild of doctor, photographer, activist Chip Thomas, known in the art community as Jetsonorama. A twenty-five plus year resident of the Reservation, and the Painted Desert Project is what he refers to as a “love letter to the Navajo Nation.”

And what a love letter it is. Works have been created not only by Thomas, but by artist like Tom Greyeyes, Monica Canilao, and Overunder to name a few not to mention artist from afar, like Canadian Labrona, the Belgium Roa, or Brazilian Raul Zito and the list goes on. Dozens of talented artists from around the globe each contributing a paragraph, in their own "words" to Dr. Thomas' love letter.

Every artist who worked on the project was brought onto the reservation for an extended stay and given the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in the culture of the tribe before being allowed to start their piece. A process that helped each artist to produce works that have not only impact, but relevance to the community who will continue to live with the work long after the artist has left.

The pieces that are shown here were found roadside along the 89 and the 160, and while each of these works photographs well, most of the art here is more than worth the detour to see them in person. You can even find a map of mural locations hosted on Chip Thomas' website here.

he painted desert and the Navajo Nation itself truly are the soul of the southwest. A place with a culture, a taste, and a feel all it's own. This barren land has a heart beat like a drum, it's in my blood, it pulses in my veins, and it's been calling me home for so long now. I feel so very lucky that this drive with all its beauty and splendor, both man-made and natural is the entryway to the place I now call home again.

"In a decaying society, art, if it is truthful must also reflect decay. And if it wants to break faith with its social function art must show the world as changeable. And help change it. -Ernst Fisher-

#simplelife #unbound #unboundlife #painteddesert #roadtrip #roadsideattractions #navajonation #streetart #murals #painteddesertproject

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