Artist statement for Dene bāhī Naabaahii at the Portland Art Museum
Demian DinéYazhi´s creative practice is materialized through the lens of curatorial inquiry, site-specific installation(s), poetic expression, social engagement, and art production. DinéYazhi´ was raised in a matrilineal household and his maternal grandfather served in the U.S. Marine Corps as a Navajo Code Talker. Therefore, the undercurrents of DinéYazhi´s work include a reverence toward traditional Diné practices, storytelling, traditional ceremonies, and acknowledging the criticality and sacredness of land, while simultaneously challenging contemporary archetypes of authenticity and jurisdiction. DinéYazhi´ creates artwork that challenges hierarchal structures and re-utilizes conceptual art as a tool for truthtelling, sovereignty, uprising, and reclamation of language, culture, and self.
The late artist David Wojnarowicz once wrote, “If I were to leave this country and never come back or see it again in films or sleep I would still remember a number of different things that sift back in some kind of tidal motion.” A similar thought process is activated in DinéYazhi´s artistic practice—most notably when contemplating how an Indigenous Queer body navigates space in a post-apocalyptic and colonized country of his ancestors. Whether broaching topics contiguous with decolonization, survivance, HIV/AIDS, social and environmental justice, and queer sexuality, DinéYazhi´ continually finds himself caught in a narrative that is informed by both the romanticized notions of belonging and the alienation experienced through centuries of forced assimilation to White Supremacist Capitalist Heteropatriarchal Colonization.
The dirt on view originates from the artist’s maternal grandparent’s land located north of Chʼínílį́, Diné Bikéyah (Chinle, Arizona; Navajo Nation). The title for the piece comes from the Navajo Code Talker Dictionary; accompanying “literal translation” appears below title with “military vocabulary” in parenthesis.
The artist’s maternal grandfather served in the U.S. Marine Corps with the 1st Battalion, 11th Marine, First Marine Division, as a Navajo Code Talker.
KAY-YAH CAH-DA-KHI TA-GAID AH-CHANH, 2016
Land (Land) Wound (Wound) Without (Without) Self Defense (Protect) (piece on the right)
The coal on view originates from the ancestral land of the Diné People: Diné Bikéya (Navajo Reservation). The title for the piece comes from the Navajo Code Talker Dictionary; accompanying “literal translation” appears below title with “military vocabulary” in parenthesis.
It is estimated that 7.8 million tons of coal is extracted each year by Peabody Western Coal Company on the ancestral lands of the Diné (Navajo). Strip mining and extracting the coal provides jobs for the Diné, electricity for the much Southwest, but it also plays a significant role in the perpetuation of displacement/relocation, and health and environmental genocide.
Through the accumulation of memories, my indoctrination into western institutions, and the endless pursuit of translating my experience, language has become a focal point in my work as an art communicator and as an Indigenous Native north american activist/warrior. As stated throughout Indigenous theory, the daily act of waking up has become a form of resistance. In the years leading up to my birth, the country had witnessed 491 years of european colonization and genocide—environmentally and against the millions of Native peoples Indigenous to this continent.
In choosing to speak, write & communicate in
the language of the colonizer, I carry with me the story of my ancestors from this living continent. In choosing to engage in institutions that perpetuate the legacy of western art, history, language, culture, etc., I nurture the story of my parents, my relatives of clan & blood, and the future generations of warriors.
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In Your Wildest Dreams is an installation that merges poetry, landscape representation, intimacy, and memory in relation to the queer male body. The nude male subject’s highly politicized body is brought to the forefront and Nature creates the context for desire and gender ideation. It is also about embracing sexuality in a society that has been violent, abusive, and damaging to Queer bodies. The photographs in this series function as sandpaper against rigid masculine societal constructs in order to pave a path toward patriarchal surrender.
The softness of the male form against the grain of a garden rose. Laura Nyro singing “Spanish Harlem” in 1971. The blinding gallery light mistaken for the sun. Silk charmeuse caught in a breeze from human bodies breathing and brushing up against it like a suggestion.