Hopi Histories, Possible Futures

Today marks Indigenous Peoples’ Day, which recognizes the cultural contributions and importance of indigenous groups in the United States. In recognition of the holiday, we’re spotlighting the complex yet ultimately hopeful mural Hopi Visions: Journey of the Human Spirit, on view for free until December 2. The mural reflects the long collaboration between Hopi artists Michael Kabotie and Delbridge Honanie, who created the work in 2001 for the Museum of Northern Arizona. The exhibition also highlights a number of ancestral and modern works in the DMA’s permanent collection that connect to themes and material culture depicted in the murals.

PanelA

Michael Kabotie and Delbridge Honanie, Journey of the Human Spirit–The Emergence (Panel A), 2001, courtesy of the Museum of Northern Arizona, photograph by Gene Balzer

This six-paneled mural weaves a story of Hopi society from its emergence to the beginning of the 21st century. The large painting creates an immediate sense of warmth and light through its luminous colors and the combination of simplified geometric forms with soft, painterly textures. However, the harmony of the composition is at odds with some of its content: Panel B depicts the violence of the 1680 Pueblo Revolt, when Pueblo groups fought back against the Spanish colonists who had settled in the Southwest.

PanelB

Michael Kabotie and Delbridge Honanie, Journey of the Human SpiritPueblo Revolt: The Rebellion of 1680 (Panel B)

As the mural’s journey moves through time, it also alludes to the destructive extraction of uranium and coal from Hopi lands,as well as present-day problems such as alcoholism, illness, food deserts, drug use, and suicide.

PanelE

Michael Kabotie and Delbridge Honanie, Journey of the Human SpiritRational Side: The Dysfunction (Panel E)

The coexistence of both destruction and regeneration in the mural reflects the Hopi principles that ground the artists’ work. Kobatie and Honanie explain that for Hopi, cycles of destruction and rebirth reflect an effort to find balance. For example, as the mural shows, although the Pueblo Revolt brought great violence, it ultimately forced the Spanish to retreat. Because of this violence, there was a regeneration of Hopi culture, which early Spanish settlers had severely repressed. The central panel powerfully symbolizes this through an image of the Squash Maiden, a new baby growing from an ear of corn, and the combination of ancestral images along the mural’s lower register with contemporary Hopi baskets, jewelry, and ceramics in the upper portion of the image.

PanelC

Michael Kabotie and Delbridge Honanie, Journey of the Human SpiritMiddle Place: The Rebirth (Panel C)

The notion of contradiction as a place from which to grow and to find balance also informs Honanie and Kabotie’s understanding of their mission as Hopi artists. Their artistic practice was communal and rooted in Hopi culture, but it was also a reflection of individual goals and journeys. Kabotie and Honanie attempted to create a new visual language that incorporated Hopi imagery but also drew from Cubism, Abstract Expressionism, and US mass culture.

PanelF

Michael Kabotie and Delbridge Honanie, Journey of the Human SpiritHope: Confusion and Hope (Panel F)

By placing a computer at the top of a Teotihuacan-style talud-tablero (slope and panel) pyramid, the artists look to contemporary technology and its potential for interconnectivity as a way to share wisdom from many cultures and traditions and create a balanced future, but they also root this technology and wisdom firmly in a collective indigenous history of the Americas.

Chloë Courtney is a Digital Collections Content Coordinator at the DMA.


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