Art

The Past Is Still Present at Scottsdale Public Art's New Indigenous Art Exhibit

This instrument is part of Thomas "Breeze" Marcus' "Suite for the Akimel" series of works.
This instrument is part of Thomas "Breeze" Marcus' "Suite for the Akimel" series of works. Scottsdale Public Art

"The past is always the present" is the central theme of the new Scottsdale Public Art exhibition "FIRST: Native American Artists of Arizona."

To potter Ron Carlos, a member of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community who assisted in the curation of the exhibit, that means seeing traditional motifs and patterns in contemporary mediums.

"They're bringing that part of their cultural past into the future with them," he says.

"FIRST" has been on display since last month at the Civic Center Public Gallery inside the Scottsdale Civic Center Library, 3839 North Drinkwater Boulevard, Scottsdale. It runs through March 30, but at 10 a.m. tomorrow (Friday, February 11), you can attend a reception at the gallery with some of the artists whose work is in the show.

The exhibit features over a dozen artists representing numerous tribes in efforts to not only tell stories of the past, but also to highlight the modern contemporary Indigenous artists that are breaking molds today.

Among the various mediums hang decorated classical string instruments painted by Thomas “Breeze” Marcus. The collection of works titled “Suite for the Akimel” pays homage to the Akimel River with intricate white lines rushing down the wooden instruments in geometric paths.

While the artwork is embedded in the rich history of the Akimel O’odham and their ancestral lands, Marcus noted that classical string instruments are not often associated with Native people.

“Why not?” he asks. Marcus hopes more people will recognize current Native artists as modern creatives that can pull from tradition while also trailblazing innovative art.

To conceptualize "FIRST," Wendy Raisanen, Scottsdale Public Art’s curator of collections and exhibitions, drew from her personal fascination with Indigenous art.

“When I was little, I would always hang out in the library, and there was this whole selection of stories about Native Americans," she says. "I read every single one of them. I thought it'd be really exciting to get modern, current artists that are doing Native American artwork.”

Potter says his main goal is to uplift up-and-coming Native artists — some of whom struggle to feel as though their art is "fit for a [gallery] setting."

For artist Jessie Yazzie, prison is where he perfected his craft, and now his paintings hang on the white walls of this Scottsdale gallery.

From small graphite card portraits to acrylic murals, Yazzie's style evolved, and his art is rapidly becoming a staple around the valley.

Yazzie says sketches, tattoos, and murals became projects in prison that kept him from getting involved with drugs and fights.

"Having art to ground me and keep me focused on a central idea of becoming an artist helped me out more than I could possibly explain," he says. "It was therapy. It was passion."

Yazzie says it's important for Native artists to gain recognition within a public space.

"I know Scottsdale's a really big hub for Native American art, but a lot of the Native American art is distributed by galleries that don't really have their best interests in mind," he says. "This exhibit is just really nice because they have artists that I'm actually familiar with, and I know their values. So it's nice to see some familiar faces in this gallery."

"FIRST: Native American Artists of Arizona" reception. 10 a.m. Friday, February 11. Scottsdale Public Art at the Civic Center Public Gallery, 3839 North Drinkwater Boulevard, Scottsdale. The exhibit continues through March 30. Learn more here.
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Spring 22 Arts and Culture intern