Arizona Artist Explores Native Identity Of His Generation

PHOENIX — Mixed media artist Tom Greyeyes chose to introduce himself for his interview with Fronteras Desk first in Navajo, and then in English.

“Hi, my name is Tom Greyeyes,” he said after the Navajo version. “I’m from Northern Arizona, I was born and raised in Flagstaff, Navajo Rez.”


2 thoughts on “Arizona Artist Explores Native Identity Of His Generation

  1. ZC

    Wow, Greyeye’s art is absolutely incredible. I’m intrigued by the commentary about “how Native young people of his generation straddle two worlds.” i think dualities keep coming up in our class and the root of “manichean” dualities is deeply tied to colonization. Fanon talks about “double consciousness,” the psychology of colonization, and the creation of the “African other.” Greyeyes also comments on colonization in the context of the Southwest, a much different context with it’s own specific history, but he also confronts dualistic splits between cultures and generations. Greyeyes speaks about these spilts: “a lot of us are sort of in this void, between traditional and then what I guess is American culture,” Greyeyes said. “And being in that void is sometimes frustrating. And there are always conflicting views, too, conflicting values.”

    I am struck by the painting of the young girl from the San Carlos Reservation. Greyeyes says, “the bottle represents alcohol abuse. The growing sunflowers – which grow wild on the San Carlos Apache reservation – stand for the persistence of tribal culture and values.” I like that through his art, Greyeyes is showing the power of culture in transforming our lives and realities. In the second photo, the large sunflower is the strong image of Apache culture, which has broken the bottle constraining the little girl. The intersections of art and culture can provide commentaries on the ways colonization and white supremacy influence Native Peoples.

  2. Ravenna Napp-Shapiro

    “Those little flowers have grown into a huge sunflower that has burst through the top of the bottle”

    I am also in awe of Greyeyes’ art. Even on my small computer screen his art reached me on an emotional level. This speaks to the power that art has for the revolution. We’ve talked a lot in class about how in addition to saying no to the oppressive tactics of dominant culture, we must say yes to the alternatives. We must create new culture, new spaces, new ways of treating one another that strive for collective liberation. To me art is one of the best ways to resist. Making art challenges the white supremacist agenda that takes out human wholeness and brings public heart back into our lived experience. In a more ‘practical’ sense, art gets reactions but doesn’t get reactive. Perhaps art is especially useful for potential ally’s that are easily intimidated and turned off by “fierce and blunt” activists because art is able to push a political agenda without having to directly speak to another. Of course, honest dialogue is also important in the revolution but by working from different angles (art, dialogue, education, etc.) we are able to make the movement that much stronger.

    Greyeyes also speaks to “losing his own cultural heritage.” How complex the manifestations that make up losing one’s cultural heritage are. Within anti-racist conversations we often focus on the institutional ways that dominant culture pushes out non-white cultural heritage, but what about the ways we as individuals push it out too? It makes me scrunch my eyebrows together so hard to wrap my head around how deeply impeded the white supremacist way of thinking is in my every word and move.


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