Prescott College’s Spring
Art Resident invites the locals to be part of a national art project
Yellow Dirt Testimony – A Promise in Many Parts – Organized by Edie Dillon
Dear Artists and Friends,
In the last days of fall I participated in a heartbreaking and inspiring project – a 4-day program put on by the Coconino Center for the Arts to educate artists on the impact of uranium mining on the Navajo Nation – The program was designed to give artists a voice in what has been called a slow motion environmental and social catastrophe. I came home exhausted and sad, but also filled with ideas, inspiration, commitment, and the sense that I had found some kindred souls in the art world.
One idea has taken on life in the peculiarly serendipitous way that happens when something is right. Uranium mining began on the Navajo Nation in 1944 as the Manhattan Project was developing the bombs that would obliterate Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Through 1986 mines on the Navajo Nation supplied 30 million tons of uranium to feed the country’s cold war bomb making appetite. There are still many unremediated mines on Navajo land.
One of the many striking and unconscionable elements of the environmental, human rights, and health disaster of Navajo uranium mining is that, even though the risks were known, miners were not provided even the most basic information, safety training, or personal protection. Dust masks – the absolute minimum protection that could have been offered – can thus become a meaningful art statement. A mask over the mouth protects, but it also is a potent symbol for silencing, and relates to the silencing of the miners’ health concerns as well as the warnings of government officials over the years.
Another truth that comes up in conversation about the cold war is that many people, whether or not they live on the Navajo Nation, are, in one way or another “downwind” of nuclear bombs; their health was affected by fallout, by nuclear materials used to build the bombs, by the cold war ethos. Many adults across the U.S. have shadowed childhood memories of the the 50’s and 60’s duck and cover drills.
So, bringing together these two realities, I am inviting artists and community members to render their responses onto (gesso prepared) dust masks and to use these to build a large (12-15 feet tall) mushroom cloud.
I’ve been offered a residency at the Prescott College Sam Hill Art Gallery beginning in January as a base for the project. I’ll be holding information and open studio sessions there through early spring. The mushroom cloud structure, made from multiple responses – along with the names of all who have participated – will be a compelling and meaningful visual statement. It will be exhibited in Hope and Trauma in a Poisoned Land originating this summer at the Coconino Center for the Arts in Flagstaff and traveling the country thereafter.
I would love to have you join me in this project!
Guidelines for decorating the dust masks:
• The response could be a word or words, an image, a symbol or anything else you are inspired to
o It would be most helpful to the local people effected by the mining to, as much as possible,
record a message or symbol of hope; something that represents active peace and honoring
the earth, our source of life.
o This may require you to acknowledge and address your own sorrow and anger.
o Please be aware of Navajo prohibitions about depicting people who have passed. Images of
death, like skulls, are not used in Navajo culture and should be avoided. Non Navajos should not reproduce Yei images.
• To provide some visual continuity, I ask that the colors used be limited to:
Black ~ Grey ~ White ~ Red ~ Umber ~ Ochre
• Images can be rendered in ink, paint, thread, or whatever else you feel is appropriate.
• Each person who participates in this project is making twin commitments: to pay attention and not let something like this happen again, and to be a positive force toward peace. When you make your mask, keep this in mind. You might even want to add a word or thought to the back of the mask that represents what this promise means to you. The names of all participants will be exhibited.
• Let me know if you need some dust masks prepared with gesso (easier for painting on). Buying your own masks, get Amazon: SAS Safety 2985 Non-Toxic Dust Mask Box of 50 (2-Pack), or similar.
• If you have a group of people or students, I can get you the number of dust masks you need.
• Best would be if you could get your piece (s) back to me by April 1.
• Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 928-277-9155 for questions, responses, or ask me to mail dust masks to you. My mailing address is: 1217 S Hopi Drive, Prescott, AZ 86303.
– In other words, earth tones. Variations
of these colors are fine.
– And, of course using only one color or
any combination of these would be fine.
Donations to cover cost of materials and mailing happily accepted!
This project is made possible through an artist residency at the Prescott College Art Gallery at the Sam Hill Warehouse
You can see more on their Facebook group page, Yellow Dirt Testimony – a promise in many parts.
**The Art Store is not managing or acting as a dropoff place for this project. You will need to contact Edie Dillon about this project to participate. Please see contact details above.