Gallup, New Mexico, has long been known for its rich Native American arts traditions, but this fall the Gallup MainStreet Arts & Cultural District took art to an unlikely place- in an alley in the heart of downtown. The choice of location is ahead of a collaborative effort between the Gallup MainStreet Arts & Cultural District, the City of Gallup, the Business Improvement District, and gallupARTS to begin to completely overhaul alleys in downtown Gallup to make them walkable family-friendly centers for the arts as well as functional.
Gallup MainStreet Arts & Cultural District received a grant from the New Mexico Resiliency Alliance (NMRA), in partnership with New Mexico MainStreet and the McCune Charitable Foundation, to support a collaborative project with gallupARTS for bringing art into the heart of Gallup’s downtown. The alley where the mural is located is halfway between Aztec and Coal Avenues and between First and Second Streets.
Albuquerque-based artist Marina Eskeets was chosen by a selection committee and is now completing a new mural on the back of a building occupied by Northwest New Mexico Council of Governments.
Marina’s piece, titled ‘Óódááł | Everyone Moving Forward,’ will present a colorful depiction of two young Diné | Navajo girls walking behind a flock of sheep. They blow bubbles with their gum and wave their hands in the air to keep the heard moving. They walk past a twisted cedar tree with geometric patterns framing them. In the far background, there are four wind turbines mimicking a cornfield. Blue gramma grass grows at their feet. Marina Eskeets grew up in Gallup and this narrative is central to Eskeet’s personal story. It also resonates widely with many of the area’s residents. The work is scheduled for completion in December of 2019, and we sat down with the artist for an in-depth look at her process.
What is different about adapting a work of art for the public, as a mural, versus for a gallery or in your studio? Are there any challenges that this venue presents?
Creating this mural is very different than showing in a gallery or making work in my studio. The community gets to see the slow progression and they provide continuous feedback. Working in the studio is super isolated and I only get limited feedback. It is definitely a challenge to be out in the elements but it is worth it to have met all the people I have and to create this whole experience with my family and my boyfriend, which creates even more meaning in the piece.
What excites you about producing a work in downtown Gallup?
To be part of a project that is more than just the mural is unreal. So far all the reactions toward the mural have been positive, people giggle when I show them my sketch for the mural, or they tell me some memories of their sheep herding days and to me that is the most exciting: knowing my work is capturing the interests of local Indigenous and Latino community. The process of working with my family, and alongside the construction crew, delivery trucks for Sammy C's, garbage trucks, and the cooks from Sammy C's, is fun, we have to make room for each other in the narrow alley and it feels like a collective effort to improve the downtown area.
Can you talk a bit about working with students at Miyamura High School, how is that structured and what it is like for you to be working with your alma mater?
It's really productive working with art students, they have so much energy and creative skills, and it definitely helps me complete certain areas quicker. We need more young Indigenous creative minds out here.
You are also engaging in a storytelling initiative, can you talk a bit about that and share a bit of your own story behind the mural?
I am inviting the community to share their sheep herding stories as a sound piece to accompany the mural. The mural itself is portraying the Indigenous community in a contemporary way and the stories give the voice back to the community through their memories of an ancestral practice. I myself grew up next to my naali's | paternal grandparents| and herded their sheep with my older sister Anna and older brother Johnny. My Naali man would pull out a heavy bean sack and set it on the bed at the end of the week and give us each 25 cents for going after the sheep. When my parents would go check the mail, my older sister and I would go next door to purchase bubble gum with the money he gave us, and it was something I enjoyed a lot. A few years later my grandparents sold all their sheep and everything changed. I am grateful to have had these experiences with my siblings and grandparents, and this mural is dedicated to the grandparents who taught us to walk on the land.
Stop by to see Eskeet at work until December and then make sure to visit any time afterward for a view of her completed mural.
For information on the project, the artist, or additional downtown programs find us at www.gallupmainstreet.org
For information about arts programs throughout Gallup and McKinley County visit www.galluparts.org