Julius Badoni's American Indian Mural at ASU

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It's about time Phoenix sees some serious mural love. In the interest of giving credit to their artists and because we're losing track of the times we've said, "Woah, when did that go up?", we bring you Mural City, a series on the murals springing up around town -- their artists, their hosts, and their inspirations.

See also: Angel Diaz's Quetzalcoatl Twins on 16th Street

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. But compared to the meaning packed into the series of murals Julius Badoni painted inside a building on the Arizona State University campus, a thousand words is nothing.

Spanning four panels inside American Indian Student Support Services at ASU Tempe, the murals use vivid colors and symbolism to voice the artist's interpretation of the political struggles of American Indians. Badoni, who spends the majority of his time working with activism groups, has been working on the mural for the last two years -- and still has more work to finish.

Get more photos of the murals after the jump.

Badoni grew up on a Navajo reservation in northern Arizona and says he's always been interested in art, although he struggles with identifying himself as an artist. He worried in the past that his art would hinder his ability to continue his work as an activist.

"I never really planned on being an artist.," Badoni says. "I play the unifier. I use my artistic personality to be glue [for the community]."

To date, Badoni has completed four panels and has plans for two more. Each panel represents a period of American Indian history, from pre-contact to modern days, and progress in chronological order. A repeating layout ties together all four pieces; the upper third of the panels contain scared landmarks while the lower two-thirds contain a patchwork of historical figures and symbols of the political struggles.

The first panel depicts pre-contact American Indian life. Badoni says silhouetted animals represent various creation stories against the backdrop of snowy Mt. Shasta. He modeled portraits of famous American Indians from black-and-white photos. Prominent figures include Sitting Bull, Tecumseh, and Geronimo while the child in the center of the panel characterizes a friend's niece.

In the next panel Badoni painted life during the Americanization of the native people. The rolling hills below Devils Tower, a rock formation in Wyoming, display the colors of the United States flag to symbolize the loss of the land and leaves bearing the words, "land," "language," and "culture" fall from a graying tree. Famous half-native Olympian, Jim Thorpe, crouches in the center of the panel above side-by-side portraits of a native man before and after his American transformation.

Things pick up in the next segment: the 1920s, when American Indians experienced a resurgence of embracing the native identity, which Badoni compares to "busting through a wall." Visible through a broken brick wall sits Mt. Taylor. A slew of famous activists including Annie Dodge Wauneka, Vine Deloria and Richard Oakes flank protestors defending sacred sites. Navajo code talkers wear moccasins, a decision Badoni made to emphasize the paradox of native patriotism, and a red road representing the rebelliousness of the time blends into the "heart beat of the people."

Finally the mural arrives in the present day when the red road transforms into a filmstrip, Badoni's jab at the mainstream media's representation of native people in movies like Twilight. From there the road gets lost to a plethora of symbolic vices including a 40 bottle, an oil drum, a can of coke and ultimately, a slot machine. A tribal elder with money on the mind (literally) stands with an insulin syringe and fisherman hunt for a whale below.

Badoni started work on a fifth panel that he says will represent the future. He says he might paint a student in a cap and gown looking back on the history. He also hopes to add a panel depicting the Phoenix-area tribes.

Badoni, an ASU alumnus, majored in American Indian studies and speaks fluent Navajo. He moved to Phoenix at the age of 13 and while he says he was always a fighter, he now wants to use his art to fuel his passion for community building.

While working on the mural, Badoni spent hours reading and researching the history, looking for inspiration.

"This mural is like my notes on everything I learned," he says.

You can see and purchase some of Badoni's other art at American Indian museums in the Southwest, including the Heard Museum and the Wheelright Museum in Santa Fe.

photos by Lauren Saria, mural by Julius Badoni

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