New Mexico Artist to Know Now Rapheal Begay updates us on his work and relationship to art since the COVID-19 pandemic, which he has spent at home in Navajo Nation. He continues to advocate for Indigenous aesthetics and visual sovereignty.
This past March (the one that feels approximately 200 years ago) Southwest Contemporary held its second-annual exhibition 12 New Mexico Artists to Know Now. Selected from over 400 submissions, these are the artists we consider to be shaping the landscape of contemporary art in New Mexico.
Just one week after the opening, however, the gallery closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, these artists have continued to create, in terms of art as well as impact in their communities. We’re checking in with each of them to see how they are, and what they’re making now.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your process? Has it changed where, how or when you work? Has it changed the subject matter?
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, my process as a photographer has been limited as Navajo Nation residents are discouraged from traveling on and off the reservation. However, my time home has allowed me to question and expand my role as a storyteller within my community. As I continue to advocate for Indigenous Aesthetics and Visual Sovereignty, I am reminded of the humanity and inherent magic within all creation and our ever-evolving place in the world.
What are your top concerns for the arts and your fellow artists?
My biggest concern for the arts and fellow artists is one centered on survival (literally and metaphorically speaking). In a time of much uncertainty, my concerns lie with Indigenous and Native communities as they fight against COVID-19 while maintaining creative expression, artistic livelihood, and cultural resiliency. It is my hope that a new-found sense of direction and action allows the arts and fellow artists to create change on a local, regional, and national level.
“As I continue to advocate for Indigenous Aesthetics and Visual Sovereignty, I am reminded of the humanity and inherent magic within all creation and our ever-evolving place in the world.”
How has your relationship with art-making changed during this time?
My relationship to art-making has changed during this time as I’ve chosen to not only accept but to embrace this convoluted reality we all share in this very moment. To do so, I hope to contribute to our understanding and our shared existence with respect to the past, present, and future. Thus, to create is based not only in beauty and balance, but with intent.
Tell us about your current projects or pieces:
Most recently, I had the pleasure of curating Sacred Together, an Indigenous Art Showcase, virtually hosted by Diné Pride 2020. The online exhibition recognizes and celebrates the passion, perspective, and creativity of Indigenous 2SLGBTQ+ artists. As I continue to advocate for art and life within our community, I am eager to virtually share my work and have conversations pertinent to themes and topics of this moment. The goal now is to collaboratively engage with artists, organizations, and institutions to create experiences informed and inspired by love and art.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
As one of 12 New Mexico Artists to Know Now in 2020, I initially wanted to utilize this opportunity to activate space with stories of life on the reservation. Now, I aim to expand my practice, presence, and perspective at the benefit of Southwest tribal communities. And so, I am pleased to announce Łichíí’, an upcoming solo-exhibition at LOOM Indigenous Art Gallery in downtown Gallup, NM slated for December 2020. In true form, I am returning home to heal, to love, and to live life. Continue to stay safe and stay strong. #WeAreSacred