As her retrospective exhibition at the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts demonstrates, Linda Lomahaftewa’s artworks vibrantly convey her personal reflections on the changing social landscapes around her.
As her retrospective exhibition at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) Museum of Contemporary Native Arts demonstrates, Linda Lomahaftewa’s artworks vibrantly convey her personal reflections on the changing social landscapes around her. The Moving Land: 60+ Years of Art by Linda Lomahaftewa brings together several different phases of the artist’s works. In a recent conversation with Lomahaftewa, she shared her perceptions of the exhibition. “Everything just kind of blends, one into another. The whole show just flows through. It has a good feeling.” Painting since she was just five years old, Lomahaftewa, a Hopi/Choctaw artist, is known as the artist in her family. She grew up in the Phoenix, Arizona area and transferred to IAIA to complete her high school degree in 1962, the year IAIA opened. It was also the first time Lomahaftewa experienced Santa Fe—a place close to her heart that she’s called home for the past forty-five years.
After she graduated from IAIA, Lomahaftewa earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fine arts from the San Francisco Art Institute. Included in her current exhibition, an untitled drawing in black ink made between 1965 and 1975 reflects her immersion into Bay Area culture. The composition presents a counterpoint to Lomahaftewa’s dynamic color palettes—a signature approach she’s long been recognized for in her paintings and monotypes. In this work, the black ink shifts the focus to the artist’s swirling designs with embedded motifs, such as the banks of feathers that become visible upon a longer look. The curvature in these marks lends visual connections to San Francisco’s counterculture aesthetics, the psychedelia of the era, and Lomahaftewa’s interactions with this ethos as a burgeoning artist. An acrylic-on-canvas painting from the late 1960s, also featured in the exhibition, further emphasizes this moment. It blends flowing abstraction with photographic images of the Beatles that merge together in bright, colorful hues.
Upon completing her formal education, Lomahaftewa taught in both the ethnic studies department at the Sonoma campus of California State University and the fine arts department at the University of California at Berkeley. By the mid-1970s, IAIA contacted her and wanted to bring her back to Santa Fe as a studio arts instructor. After thinking it over for a year, Lomahaftewa accepted the opportunity to return to her alma mater and embarked upon a forty-one-year tenure as a professor on campus. She’s nurtured at least two generations of young artists through the painting and printmaking courses she taught between 1976 and 2017.
Marking Lomahaftewa’s early years as an IAIA teacher, Awatovi Parrot (1980), an acrylic-on-canvas painting, foregrounds a blue-and-gold macaw in front of a night sky. This artwork reflects the ongoing inspiration the artist draws from Hopi ancestral murals that renews her connections to her home village, Sungopovi, at the Hopi Second Mesa in northern Arizona. Moreover, Lomahaftewa’s fascination with the night sky serves as another anchor in her practice. In Crescent Moon (1999), a monotype on paper, a reptilian figure inspired by petroglyphs stands at the ground line in front of a mountain peak marked by a red spiral—a sign of migration—with a thin moon overlooking the scene. Regarding this format of printmaking, Lomahaftewa explained, “With monotypes, you kind of have to work fast. It’s instant painting almost. There’s more gestural movement in the prints.”
Over the past two decades, she’s made a prolific amount of monotypes that have shown regionally in neighboring states like Oklahoma and internationally in exhibitions in Russia and England. In the mid-2010s, Lomahaftewa began traveling to Indigenous mound sites in North America to renew connections to her Choctaw heritage. From her experiences, she produced a body of monotype prints, including Mapping the Connection #1 (2016), an abstract interpretation of these ancestral land arts in a swirling palette of blue, purple, green, and terracotta. During this period, IAIA awarded her an honorary doctorate of humanities upon her retirement in May 2017.
Lomahaftewa currently works from her Midtown studio on the former College of Santa Fe campus. She recently made four paintings, at a smaller scale than usual, during her fall 2020 virtual artist residency with IAIA that mainly took place at a studio at Vital Spaces, a Santa Fe arts nonprofit. One work, Healing Prayers for a Pandemic Universe (2020) evokes hope through gestural webs of yellow, purple, blue, and gold embedded in a night sky. Through these pathways, the painting offers new possibilities in the current social landscape that’s redefining its future within each fluid moment. Indicated by the painting’s title, Lomahaftewa wishes healing for all people. While speaking with her, she reflected on this composition. “It made me think of how a prayer would look—just things in motion.”