On Tribal Lands, a Time to Make Art for Solace and Survival

On Tribal Lands, a Time to Make Art for Solace and Survival

The Zuni way of life is an intricate weave of religious and cultural rituals and extended family ties. “Social distancing doesn’t translate into Zuni language or lifeways, and graphs from the C.D.C. aren’t always the most effective messaging for Indigenous people,” said Joseph Claunch, executive director of the nonprofit Zuni Youth Enrichment Project. He recruited an artist, Robin Lasiloo, instead. Mr. Lasiloo created a poster promoting fitness for kids stuck at home using clan figures — among them a buff coyote demonstrating a forearm plank.

Masks, an essential element of ceremonial regalia for millenniums, are also being redefined anew. First American Magazine recently published “Masked Heroes: Facial Coverings by Native Artists.” Brent Learned, a South Cheyenne/Arapaho in Oklahoma City, was inspired to create a painting of a masked chief after losing two friends to the virus. Keri Ataumbi, an acclaimed Kiowa Nation jeweler, made a mask out of brain-tanned buckskin adorned with celestial bodies, its interior lined with red and blue trade cloth and a beaded turtle.

Her mask connects to centuries of medicine men and women. “You’re breathing through your ancestors,” she said.

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