Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Fear of a Red Planet

After a relaxing stroll through the courtyards of the Heard Museum of Native Cultures and Art in Phoenix, we headed to the Ullman Learning Center, one of several galleries in the Museum. This gallery housed the 7-foot tall by 160-foot wide mural entitled "Fear of a Red Planet: Relocation and Removal, 2000." This work was created by Steven Joe Yazzie of the Navajo nation.

Comprised of individual panels that work as one continuous image, the mural depicts the trauma, incarceration and forced removal of Arizona’s Native people (Navajo, Yaqui, and Colorado River people) in the mid- to late 1800s, and complements the Center’s exhibit "We Are! Arizona’s First People."

The mural covers three walls in the gallery and took six months to complete. In this portion of the mural, Kit Carson is shown as a chess piece being moved by a giant hand on a game board. Carson has three arms, representing manifest destiny, the westward expansion of America and the religious forces in the lives of the American Indians.

The eagle, representing America, has its eyes sewn shut so that it is unable (or unwilling) to see what is happening.

Thousands of Dine' (Navajo) were rounded up and forced to walk hundreds of miles to Fort Sumner, south of what today is Albuquerque (1862-1868). The military accomplished this forced walk by burning the homes and crops of the Navajo. Because the walk was long and the weather very cold, many Dine' died.

The mother is holding her dead son in a manner similar to Mary holding her Son after he was taken down from the cross as shown in the "Pieta" by Michelangelo.

In 1868, the U.S. Government signed a treaty allowing the Dine' to return to their land. Representing the Government and dressed in an Uncle Sam suit, is a coyote, a trickster that often fails to fulfill his promises.

To the right of the coyote is a young boy, the offspring of the father, a Dine', dressed in Anglo clothing and the mother, an Anglo in Dine' clothing. By wearing a Kit Carson T-shirt, the young boy reveals that he was never taught in school about the history of what happened to his people.

In the center of this panel is the Deer Dancer, honoring the deer. If the hunter had a good heart and shared the meat without wasting any, the deer would allow the hunter to kill it. The deer sacrificed itself for the hunter and his community. Behind the Dear Dancer is Christ on the cross (it may be hard to see this in the photo), who also sacrificed himself for the good of the people.

This section celebrates the persistence of the Yaqui people and culture, although subjected to 300 years of intruders--conquistadors, missionaries, Mexican soldiers, and revolutionaires.

In the yellow area of the mural, the human figure appears dark because it represents "everyman" who is polluting the environment.

The descriptions discussed here cover only a portion of the components of the mural, and there are more scenes in the mural itself. Yazzie describes the mural as "a collage of horror and hope that is the product of many outside influences."

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