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Phoenix Indigenous Painter Thomas 'Breeze' Marcus Talks Native Art Today

This mural by Marcus resides at the New School for the Arts & Academics in Tempe.EXPAND
This mural by Marcus resides at the New School for the Arts & Academics in Tempe.
Thomas "Breeze" Marcus

The work of Phoenix-based Tohono O’odham artist Thomas "Breeze" Marcus dots the Valley landscape. But later today, he'll reach a much wider audience.

At 11 a.m. Arizona time, Marcus will make a presentation called "The Current State" for Travois First Fridays, a visual art exhibition series featuring North American Indigenous artists. Travois is a Kansas City, Missouri, company that promotes housing and economic development for American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian communities around the country. Usually, the event takes place in person with Midwestern artists, but due to the pandemic, the series will be held digitally, allowing artists and viewers in other regions to participate.

Marcus says he plans to use the event for more than just “a typical artist talk.”

“I feel it’s my obligation to use that platform in a way where I can share information bigger than myself,” he says.

According to the Travois website, Marcus' presentation will "showcase an ongoing and eye-opening art series created to foster a dialog about the border wall, desecration of sacred sites, and how the U.S.-Mexico border militarization is affecting a southern Arizona Native American community, the Tohono O’odham Nation."

He also will discuss his canvas and mural pieces, his artistic process, and the inspiration for his work.

Marcus thinks art should serve a bigger purpose than just looking pretty — that it should be used as a medium for informing the community or bringing stories about a people to those outside of that group.

His work often pays homage to the traditional Native art that hung in his mother’s house while commenting on current issues.

As an example, his mural depicting South Mountain on Roosevelt and Fifth streets, painted when construction of the Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway was being strongly opposed by the Gila River Indian Community because it cut through sacred lands, is a commentary on the holiness of the land that was ultimately scarred by asphalt.

Elizabeth Glynn, CEO of Travois, says the idea behind the company's First Friday events was to give more “air time” to Indigenous artists across the country who the company felt weren’t receiving the attention they deserved.

She says Marcus was recommended for the event by one of the Indigenous artists on the panel that chooses artists to be featured.

Breeze says events like Travois First Fridays are important to snuff out stereotypes and to promote the true Indigenous perspective.

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“People think, ‘Oh, it’s all teepees and headdresses.’” he said. “And that’s the old way of thinking. That’s systemic racism.”

It’s important to Glynn to bring to the public eye the fact that Native American art is not a thing of the past and not limited to the basket-weaving and petroglyphs often found in museums.

“These are living artists who are making incredibly meaningful art today,” she says.

Marcus' presentation is free to watch. Register here to participate.

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