Kuwanvenga’s Arts Corner: Cultural common ground

Michael Kabotie gets Smithsonian’s Visiting Artist Researech Fellowship

Photo courtesy of Michael Kabotie 
Kabotie painted this 30-inch by 22-inch acrylic on canvas, “Awatovi  Harvest,” in 1991.

Photo courtesy of Michael Kabotie Kabotie painted this 30-inch by 22-inch acrylic on canvas, “Awatovi Harvest,” in 1991.

FLAGSTAFF — For much of Michael Kabotie’s life asking questions and inquiring about things has been a priority.

This self-proclaimed “question bug” has an insatiable thirst to understand his world.

Drawing from his vast knowledge of world “archetypes,” or cultural symbols that remain a constant even though the culture itself is continually evolving, he creates masterpieces on canvas, in metal, and in his murals. Kabotie said he has always had a deep interest in how other cultures deal with topics that are prevalent in Hopi culture, and also how cultures deal with basic emotions—love, hate, jealousy, joy and a far more intricate emotion, fear.

In 2005, Kabotie submitted a proposal to the Smithsonian’s Native Arts Program for the Visiting Artist Program with the intent to study as much as he could get his hands on in the short 21-day research period that was the maximum time allowed for the program. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian announced the 2006 Native Arts Program participants, and Kabotie was among the six people chosen. The program was established 10 years ago with support from the Ford Foundation’s New Works Program.

The Native Arts Program selects and awards annual grants to native artists. The six visiting artists selected to conduct research on museum collections in Washington, New York, Philadelphia and Boston, include Kabotie, Edward Ned Bear, Kevin “Mooshka” Cata, Mario Otoniel Chavajay Cumatz, Johnny Bear Contreras and James Mark Yellowhawk.

In his proposal, Kabotie had narrowed his field to three main cultures that include the Southwestern Puebloan cultures, Ohio Valley Moundbuilding Cultures, and the Meso-American (Aztec, Mayan, and Olmec) Cultures from 500 A.D. to the present. He said he felt there was a strong connection with these cultures to the archetypes that are found in Hopi, Central and South America and the Ohio Valley. He wanted to show the connection through common images and stories that the three main cultures have regarding specifically the stories of serpents, female goddesses, twin heroes, male/warring, war and peace images and images of birth and death. His said his intent is to take what he researches from the classic archetypes and to reinterpret them into contemporary murals that depict the archetypes as they relate to today’s fast paced culture.

“This research will give me a better understanding of different cultural expressions of our ancestors and how their artistic expressions are alive in today’s world,” Kabotie said. “Ultimately, my objective is to promote an understanding across cultural borders to foster respect for all humanity. I am interested to see how the basic archetypes have influenced a culture and how they relate to the other areas of my focus.”

For example, he pointed out that serpents are common to all the cultures as are female and male symbols and ideas about war, peace, birth, death or dying.

“I am looking into these cultures to see how these cultures dealt with emotions, fear, love, joy—all of those emotions that are at the core of all human beings,” Kabotie said.

Kabotie went on to say that fear is an underlying emotion that drives a culture forward.

“Why do Hopis have a culture centered on rain or moisture? Fear is what is the emotion that drives Hopis to pray for the rain. Hopis fear no moisture will come, then without the moisture the crops die, and, in turn, the people die. So we pray for rain, for moisture. The same principles of that analogy can be applied to other cultures,” quipped Kabotie

Kabotie’s murals and paintings have inspired and reinvented traditional images of Hopi life and interpreted his ever-changing world onto a large-scale media. For example, his mural at the Museum of Northern Arizona under the Southwest Mural Project, is 48 feet long and was produced collaboration with his studio brother Delbridge Honanie.

Kabotie has in the past made presentations nationally and locally about his research on serpent symbols in world cultures, and how every culture has a form of serpent in their stories and cultural symbols. He is also a resource for Awatovi and Sikyatki murals and has used many of the symbols that he was able to research from the ruins in his art.

Kabotie is from the Village of Sungopavi, and is the son of Fred Kabotie, one of the forefathers of Hopi art and the Hopi artist who developed the method of overlay that Hopi is now famous for. Lomawywesa, his artist’s signature, is his Hopi name meaning, “To Walk In Harmony.” He has published a book, “Migration Tears, Poems about Transitions.”

In recent years, Michael Kabotie has moved into the exploration and production of limited edition prints in lithography, serigraphy, etching and embossings. He has also begun a series of collaborative paintings with Celtic artist Jack Dauben.

His influence as an artist has touched all Hopi artists at some point or another. He is also one of the founding members of Artist Hopid (1973-78), which include such masters as Delbridge Honanie, Neil David Sr., Milland Lomakema and Terrance Talaswaima. Artist Hopid was a group of painters experimenting in fresh interpretations of traditional Hopi artforms.

Kabotie has ties with a formidable list of prestigious organizations that include the Museum of Northern Arizona, the Museum of American Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe, N.M., the Mexican Cultural Center and Museum of Albuquerque, N.M., The Heard Museum, Arizona State Musuem and the Tamayo Institute of Plastic Arts in Oaxaca, Mexico. Kabotie also teaches at the Idyllwild School of the Arts Summer Native American Arts Program in California.

For more information regarding Michael Kabotie, please visit his website www.kabotie.com or an affiliated website maintained by his son, www.nativeart.net. Anyone who would like to contact the artist directly and to tour his gallery/studio should contact del Rio Studio and Gallery, 312 N. Sitgreaves St., Flagstaff, AZ or call 928-213-9025 to set an appointment.

For more information about the del Rio Gallery and to get more information about current shows at the del Rio Gallery, please visit www.delriogallery.com or email Ruth Ann Border at ruthann@delriogallery.com.

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