Monday, June 18, 2012

The Immediate Art of Hozhoni

Chris Taylor in front of "Map Monster" by Krissi Schott (left) and his own aboriginal art piece.
  It's not everyday you walk into a studio and the artists are beckoning you over, clamoring to talk to you, and drawing your portrait.  And you just met them.

  That's what happened to me today when I visited the Hozhoni Art Gallery, and got to see their exuberant show "Drawing a map from you to me and all points in-between."  The Hozhoni Foundation provides individualized services for people with developmental disabilities.  The artists have shown in places such as Brandy's, Sundara, and the NAU Beasley Art Gallery, and it's no secret that they produce surprising, endearing, and happy (yet complicated) pieces of art.  In fact, I have a piece of art from a Hozhoni artist hanging in a prime spot in my house.

"Head South, Killer Whale" by Martin Ortiz.
  Chris Taylor, a faculty member in the NAU Art Dept. and manager of the Beasley Art Gallery, along with 10 NAU Art Education students held weekly workshops with the Hozhoni artists throughout the Fall of 2011 to prepare for this current show.  Chris spent a year studying Aboriginal art in Australia, which is largely based on map-making and combines tradition, history, culture and spirituality, as well as a documentation of land into their images.  Chris's experience with the Hozhoni artists was super-creative--he told me how unexpected and fun their interpretations of map-making were.  For instance, when Chris was talking about map-making, Martin Ortiz understood the concept from the perspective of a killer whale headed south.  

  "This is a way for them to tell their stories," Chris said.  "If we slow down and look at their pieces, we'll see that this is some of the best art being made in Flagstaff.  It's so immediate and with such an honesty that you can't ignore it."

  The Hozhoni workshop experience was a good one for Chris and the Art Education students.  He wanted students to experience more diversity in mental ability, and found that once the NAU students came to Hozhoni, they were hooked.  Some got school credit for their hours, but others simply volunteered.

  Indeed, there was something refreshing about visiting the studio.  The artists were so proud of their art.  They didn't seem to suffer from egotism or lack of self-confidence.  And their hearts were so open to visitors!

  "They're not too cool-for-school," said Chris.  "And that's what makes them cool!"

  The Hozhoni therapeutic art program has been running since 1995 by Terri Engel (who was recently nominated for a 2012 Viola Leadership Award.)  According to the nomination letter, individuals really blossomed with the program, exemplified by a dramatic decrease in socially unacceptable behaviors and a significant increase in communication skills, self-esteem and increased independence. 

  But all Terri wants to talk about is how the program is growing.  They have added an "expressive arts" aspect to it, which includes film-making, drama, movement and dance, and it has added another element of self-expression to the artists lives.  Check out their recent film here

Genevieve Parish
Edward Haswood
Billy Sue Dagenhart says
"Be good but don't get into trouble!"

  Hozhoni Art Gallery is located at 2133 N. Walgreens St. and is open Mon. - Fri. from 8:30 - 3:30 p.m. and Sat. from 10 - 4 p.m.  The art is for sale, at very reasonable prices.  This current show is up until June 30, so you better hurry!

My portrait by "Eddie Eddie Edward" Haswood.

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