Monday, February 28, 2011

AZ: Navajo Rez Mural Project

Photos and text by Trina

Our drive south took us through the Navajo reservation where we noticed these huge, old and peeling photographic murals on many of the delapidated and abandoned buildings. Turns out they're part of a street art project by Chip Thomas.

A doctor who has worked on the Navajo nation since 1987, Thomas taught himself black and white photography and did his first photo installation on the Navajo reservation in June of 1990 2009 (corrected per Chip's comment below), after seeing similar murals on the streets of Brazil.

Perhaps I haven't dug deeply enough yet, but in researching Thomas' project, I haven't been able to find anything in his words addressing the "why" of the project, other than the fact that he saw something similar by someone else somewhere else and liked it, but it seems fairly obvious that the imagery, especially its monumental size, speaks to Navajo pride and identity based on sheep herding as a lifestyle. From what I've read on his blog, he seems to be working pretty intuitively, not thinking a lot or pontificating a lot about why he's doing what he's doing, but it seems to work nicely, even at its most random.

For really edgy street art that is very consciously making political statements and pointed cultural critique, check out Banksy.


  1. hey man - just a couple thoughts. i started doing the wheat pasting project in 2009, not 1990. it came about after spending 3 months on sabbatical in brasil during which i spent part of my time hanging out with people who were doing street art.

    the "why" has to do firstly with my love of street art and secondly with a desire to reflect back to the navajo people elements of their culture which they've shared with me in my 24 years out here and which i find beautiful. also, being out in the community talking with people about art, herding sheep or whatever strengthens my understanding of their culture and a cross cultural dialog is established.

    regardless, thanks for the shout out.



  2. whoops. sorry to refer to you as "man."

  3. hi chip! thank you for the insight and correction! (i was wondering how they hadn't disintegrated more if they were pasted up over 20 years ago...) we really enjoyed the murals we happened upon and i'm so glad you've added your thoughts here. it adds to my appreciation of the project to know your perspective. really great work clearly done with a good heart!

  4. hey bro, i saw your piece at bicas and it was very cool. i am native but tohono o'odham. i love street art as well. i comb the streets of tucson in search of good street art. there is a guy in tucson doing banksy kinds of graffitti but it keeps getting painted over. love your work.