MIAC names DAN NAM­INGHA a Liv­ing Trea­sure

Artist ab­stracts el­e­ments of his cul­ture in or­der to ex­press him­self while preserving sa­cred­ness

Albuquerque Journal - - JORNAL NORTH - BY JACKIE JADRNAK JOUR­NAL NORTH

Dan Nam­ingha is a wizard who can ponder land­scape and spirituality, and ex­press it as art. Or make a song vis­i­ble in paint­ing. Or ab­stract a fallen branch into a steel sculp­ture.

And he’s been do­ing it for some­thing ap­proach­ing 50 years now. No won­der, then, that the Santa Fe artist of Tewa/Hopi her­itage was named this year’s Liv­ing Trea­sure by the Mu­seum of In­dian Arts and Cul­ture.

That honor lands Nam­ingha an 11-piece ex­hi­bi­tion of his works, open­ing March 20 and run­ning through mid-Septem­ber, in the mu­seum’s foyer area. In ad­di­tion, he’ll serve as am­bas­sador and cre­ate a new art­work for the Na­tive Trea­sures In­dian Arts Fes­ti­val, which is the mu­seum’s largest fundraiser and runs May 28-29 at the Santa Fe Com­mu­nity Con­ven­tion Cen­ter. He’ll also re­ceive a piece of art­work from the pre­vi­ous year’s honorees, Teri Greeves and Keri Ataumbi.

That event’s theme, “Mother Earth,” is well suited for the kind of work the artist does, from sculp­ture to paint­ing to litho­graph and more, much of it in­spired by some el­e­ment of Hopi cer­e­monies and spirituality that have their roots in the earth and land­scape of the tribe. “Dan is a highly re­garded artist for works that re­spect­fully in­ter­pret Na­tive cul­ture. His strength lies in its demon­strat­ing his con­cern for Mother Earth,” said Della War­rior, MIAC di­rec­tor, in a news re­lease.

Af­ter all, the Hopi cre­ation sto­ries tell of their peo­ple emerg­ing through the earth from the Third to the Fourth worlds, said Nam­ingha, who

grew up on Hopi land. That sa­cred cen­ter of the world, or si­papu, is in the Grand Canyon, he said.

“Now we’re on a jour­ney into the Fifth World,” he said.

In ex­plain­ing some of the things he’s been pon­der­ing be­fore mak­ing an art­work for Na­tive Trea­sures, Nam­ingha said, “Our planet is mov­ing in a di­rec­tion that is neg­a­tive as far as weather changes af­fect­ing the ice caps and dif­fer­ent places, with the wa­ter level get­ting higher. But it’s not too late to change.

“The idea,” he con­tin­ued, “is how to con­dense that down to some­thing that is very min­i­mal, but ef­fec­tive.”

C.L. Ki­ef­fer, cu­ra­tor for Nam­ingha’s up­com­ing MIAC show, said it’s that abil­ity to con­vey a feel­ing or a mes­sage in a few ba­sic brush­strokes that makes her a “huge fan” of ab­stract art. “Ab­stract art takes a lot more thought about what you want to con­vey and why,” she said.

And as an ar­chae­ol­o­gist who spe­cial­izes in rit­ual, Ki­ef­fer said she par­tic­u­larly ap­pre­ci­ates Nam­ingha’s in­clu­sion of Hopi cer­e­mony and be­liefs in his art.

“He is tak­ing very sa­cred el­e­ments of his cul­ture but, to pro­tect the sa­cred­ness, he ab­stracts them,” she said. “It’s a beau­ti­ful way to ex­press the cul­ture and keep a piece for your­self.”

Nam­ingha said he of­ten ab­stracts cer­e­mo­nial ob­jects in his art to pro­tect their sanc­tity, but still al­low them to pro­ject a sense of the spirituality and mean­ing of the cer­e­monies in his cul­ture.

Oddly enough, he started out in school study­ing to be an il­lus­tra­tor, but dis­cov­ered that was not what he wanted to do, Nam­ingha said. Other ca­reer op­tions might have been to be a mu­si­cian, he said, not­ing he used to play gui­tar a lot, or per­haps to fol­low the path of his grand­par­ents and par­ents by rais­ing cat­tle and horses.

But he also car­ries the DNA of great-great grand­mother Nam­peyo (1856-1942), a famed Hopi pot­ter, and his sons Arlo and Michael have suc­cess­ful art ca­reers them­selves.

“I’ve al­ways been very ex­per­i­men­tal,” he said of his work. While his style and tech­niques have changed over the decades, his work has not trans­formed in a lin­ear fash­ion, as he some­times will go back and ex­plore rein­ter­pre­ta­tions of pre­vi­ous works.

For in­stance, he did some paint­ings in the ’70s based on aerial views of the land, us­ing plas­ter and paint to con­vey the tex­ture of the land­scape. Later, he said, he re­vis­ited those forms and trans­lated them into sculp­ture with cut-outs, he said.

In de­scrib­ing his ap­proach to min­i­mal­ism, Nam­ingha said he might be look­ing at a land­scape and do a sketch of it. He will break it down to a semi-ab­stract form, then con­vert it to to­tal ab­strac­tion, then get rid of a ma­jor por­tion un­til it’s re­duced to a sim­ple form or lines. And de­pend­ing on his vi­sion for the art­work, he might stop at one of those in­ter­me­di­ate steps.

Nam­ingha said he is cur­rently work­ing on a large paint­ing di­vided in half, with one half pre­sent­ing al­most an il­lus­tra­tor’s de­pic­tion of but­ter­flies, but against a very soft, out-of-fo­cus back­ground, while on the other half he is ap­ply­ing plas­ter to rep­re­sent the sand­stone tex­ture of a cliff. On it, he will ap­ply sym­bols rep­re­sent­ing his ver­sion of pic­tographs, with the cen­ter rep­re­sent­ing the si­papu — a place of­fer­ing a pas­sage­way for prayers to the spirit world, which then come back “to you, to the planet, to the com­mu­nity,” he said.

While many of his works are based in land, cul­ture and spirituality, those aren’t his only in­spi­ra­tions, Nam­ingha added.

“There are times I’m in­spired by just pure color and shapes,” he said. “Some­times I’ll do a col­lage of work, mix up medi­ums and see what will hap­pens. It doesn’t have any­thing to do with any­thing ob­jec­tive.”

He also has tried to give vis­ual ex­pres­sion to songs that his father and grand­fa­ther com­posed for tribal cer­e­monies, he said. “Twenty songs are used in two days,” Nam­ingha said. “They are so po­etic.”

He re­spect­fully named teach­ers who guided him through the years, from el­e­men­tary school through the Amer­i­can Academy of Art in Chicago, as well as those at the In­sti­tute for Amer­i­can In­dian Arts in Santa Fe.

“I learned about form and the free­dom to ex­press your­self through ex­per­i­men­ta­tion,” Nam­ingha said. “That has al­ways stayed with me. That’s kind of my mantra.”

TOP: Nam­ingha’s “Kachina Mon­tage” is a bronze edi­tion of six, 1997.

“Corn Katsina,” 2014, is an acrylic on can­vas paint­ing by Santa Fe artist Dan Nam­ingha.

“New Mex­ico Kiva,” acrylic on can­vas, 2014

Santa Fe artist Dan Nam­ingha painted this acrylic on can­vas, “Hum­ming­bird Kachina Spir­its,” in 1994.

Nam­ingha’s “As­sem­blage” is a bronze edi­tion of 10 made in 2008.

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