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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Metamorphasis of my Yazzgrl Art

Neo Hopi Sister - Diptych Mixed Media
Art Photo by Venaya Yazzie

My art has changed through the years. I started doing art markets as a "real" artist in 1996 - about one year after I graduate from the Institute of American Indian and Alaska Native Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

While a student at IAIA I was enroled in the Two-Dimensional Arts Program where I studied Photograpy. I worked with great Indigenous photographers as my instructors including Larry Mc Neal and Delilia Martinez, a Chicana photographer.

I never took a painting class while at IAIA, but instead painted after hours in the rustic art studios with friends who were painters.  I had a great mentor after I graduated from IAIA. He was and is a metal artist, and it is he who helped guide me and teach me the 'ropes' of what selling my art meant.

It has taken many years to get where I am now, I did all the hard work in establishing myself as a Dine'/Hopi Indigenous Woman Artist.  The task of finding my place in the Indigenous art world was tough, but I did it and I am still going steadfast.

This is one example of my mixed media art pieces. I have always adored the old historical photographs of my desert southwest people, and so it was easy for me to take inspiration from such strong matriarchal icons.

More of my work can be view at:

We are 'Beautyway'

Young Diné girl
Photo by Venaya Yazzie

I have been blessed to have presented my young cousin not only with a Diné (Navajo) woman’s cultural adornment item, but also to share with her the story of the Diné woman’s tsiiyaal (women’s traditional hair bundle) – and her therefore, her first tsii’tłóó (women’s hair tie).

On that day, my cousin was asking questions about the “hair buns” that I paint in my art subjects. At that time I knew it was Creator giving me a sign to share cultural knowledge with her. At that very moment, she was presented with the sacred item, and the embued cultural narrative of the women’s hair tie and style of hair bundle. At that time I carefully brushed, folded and wrapped her hair she embodied what we as Diné express as ‘Beautyway’ – which concerns the Dinéway of being ‘in balance.’ In essence, I think believe this act of Indigenous Adornment practices is an act of decolonizing from the ways of mainstream society.

In the Dinéway of living, existing, the woman culturally has a sustained and deep-rooted role in our southwestern desert society.  Again, gender has everything to do with our desert cultural teachings and ways. It is a direct line of life from our Creator.  As an artist and cultural educator, I have been able to speak to younger generations of desert girls and women about the importance of our collective roles as ‘matriarchs’ in our communities and families.

In the stories of Diné origin, the Diné woman was the first human to be ‘created.’ In this Fourth World, the female was the nurturer and great empathy and compassion for all living things. And, to this day much of what concerns Diné women’s culture and societies is about asserting the voices and knowledge of the female.  But, this act is not acted or done in a disrespectful way toward the male counterpart, instead it is to be expressed in a respectful, balanced way.  Which brings me to this, that the concept of assertiveness in Diné women has not a thing to do with the alien Euro-American concept of feminism.  For such philosophy of “women’s power” and “women’s struggle” are apart from the rich-rooted history of desert women.  Our cultural desert women’s narrative is much, much more than such a Euro-American perspective.

As for my sharing of cultural women’s knowledge with my young cousin, I tell these stories of origin, and of women’s items so they will be instilled in her mind and spirit.  Once she hears the beauty of our oral histories, she will ingest the goodness of what we call ‘hozho.’

The importance of cultural teachings to our young Indigenous girls and teens is vital to ensure the state of the tribal matriarch. Recently I have come to see a deficit in the cultural teachings of Diné epistemology – even in our own tribal school systems. Sadly, our young women are not learning about the ways of our ancestral desert women’s roles – for our Diné culture has been so colonized so that many of the Navajo mothers have not idea of what this concept is. So I see a plethora of lost, disoriented young ones wandering the chaos of modern American pop culture.

I have worked within many urban, rural and bordertown classrooms, and I fell it is the richest blessings I could ever have.  And I have seen how many of the young Diné girls are looking for guidance, anyone who would mentor them and answer their questions.  To ensure this would be the case for my cousin, I took initiative and just spoke.  I took it upon my shoulders to present her with a women’s tool of Diné girlhood/womenhod so she would find her way on the path of Diné Beautyway.  So she would be able to see the world presented before her as she grows and learns.  This is love.  For me, the sharing of Diné cultural knowledge is showing and extending compassion/empathy, 'jooba', for our female youth.

I hope you are inspired by this expression and story, I hope you will find ways to inspire, empower and set the ‘Beautyway’ for the women in our circle.

Blessings All Around.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Indi.Ears/ Necklace Designs

Indi.Ears/ Necklace Designs
Photo courtesy of artist, Venaya Yazzie

Today I post a image of a recent necklace pendant I completed.

I call this series of jewelry my Indi.Ears/ Necklace Designs. The items include earrings, pendents and other wearable art. They are all inspired by the Southwestern cultural iconic women and various materials used often by both Navajo and Pueblo people who make jewelry, but also who use such items for ceremonial purposes. 

These items are made using a wood piece base. The imagery depicted on each piece celebrates either a Navajo, Pueblo or Apache woman historical image. I have always adored looking and studying such historical images, especially to gazed at their 'indigenous adornment' status.

Once I have settled on an image I then choose the additional materials to add to the piece. I use various cultural materials such as: abalone shell, heishe shell beads, turquoise, coral, jet among other items. Each jewelry piece has a grand narrative behind it.

If you would like to view more of my Indi.Ears/ Necklace Designs please visit my online gallery and store at:


Friday, March 17, 2017

A day with two of my favorite people

'Mamasaan' - my lovely desert matriarch
Photo courtesy of  Venaya Yazzie 2017

Yesterday I was blessed to spend a: my maternal grandmother and her older sister. It has been awhile since we all have been able to converge and dialogue about life and the memories they both have of life in the San Juan Valley and Tota' where the Navajos inhabited before the settlers from the east.

The ages of my 'masani's are 86 and 92. They were born in the high desert lands of northwest New Mexico (Navajoland) in the era just before America's Great Depression. Born in a time of turmoil in the already chaotic urban American cities, my two desert matriarchs (and my great grandparents) were living a good, fulfilled, prosperous life in the communities between present-day Huerfano, NM and Farmington, NM.

At this time the Navajo were still involved in a nomadic way of life. They traveled from summer home to winter home, and planted crops were the waters were in abundance. For my family this was the Animas River valley, at a time when the water was cleaner and more abundant than today.

Both of my grandmothers were blessed with the creative way of life. They, just like there mother were (and are) grand rug weavers, they are also excellent seamstress'. I love to be in their presence, so in many ways I think of them fondly as my muses - who keep me inspired and strengthen me to continue a good Art lifeway.

My lovely desert matriarchs
Photo courtesy of  Venaya Yazzie 2017

I was able to capture this image of them together, they express their sister-adoration by referring to each other as 'shideezhi' and 'shadi' -which are Navajo language expressions of 'older' and 'younger' sister. Although I attempt to describe or translate the Navajo language to English there is no equivalent to terms that can match the exquisite beauty of Navajo.

These two woman are my rock, and I will always hold them in high esteem. I fashion my though and tangible life after them. I am grateful every day that they are in my life and that I get to dialogue with them. Creator God made some great humans when he divinely create them and delivered them to this earth, and my humble existence.

Love the desert matriarch.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Turquoise, it's just not a 'pretty stone'

Repost of a public Instagram image and expression
Photo via Instagram from hippiecuratorpeace 2017

Today I share this capture of a fellow Navajo woman from the state of Arizona in the 'heart' of Navajo land. She posted this public post via Instagram recently, and well, it is just what I needed to see to keep me inspired. And please note I only share it as a visual of how I have been inspired, and I do not mean to interpret her viewpoint.

The expression reads:

Turquoise is recognized by the Holy People that you are Navajo & they watch & protect you...

In the initial reading of this post from social media I think I was a bit unsure if I was reading this passage - or if I was just listening and musing on my own thoughts on the subject. But, I became happily aware that indeed it was a post from a fellow Navajo woman I know and admire. I only share this post because of the cultural relevance and cultural value of turquoise, and the power it tells of.

In this year of 2017 alone I have witnessed how the interest in southwestern desert cultural jewelry of the Pueblo, Navajo, Hopi and Apache has become "trendy." I have always seen how the non-Indigenous person uses it, many cases as a quaint decoration on a couture model who is selling the latest high-dollar fashions.  But, the ways I see turquoise and silver being worn is by young, new generation Indigenous peoples from across the Americas is questionable.

Don't get me wrong I think its a good thing to have concepts of 'pan-Indian' sharing of cultural items, but in many cases I see how turquoise jewelry (thought some is only objects) is being misused and therefore, disrespected by non-southwest Indigenous people.

For as a member of two southwestern tribes I know the origin stories and spiritual connections of what turquoise is for many of us. For the Pueblo, Navajo, Hopi and Apache people the turquoise stone is much much more than just a pretty blue hued stone, for it is power. As desert people we are taught the spiritual importance of turquoise as an amulet of protection, and therefore for many of us understand the direct connection to our ancestors and unseen protectors. I assume that the misuse of the turquoise by others is because many don't know the true history, and ancient story of turquoise in the southwestern (and in Mexico) cultures, and so it is used in a disrespectful way.

One of the many examples of misappropriation of a specific desert culture's jewelry item(s) is the Squash Blossom necklace. I've seen it worn by scantily-dressed, overtly sexualized Indigenous women, who wear it as a 'decoration' to sell their ill-mannered image. For me this thinking with a 'colonized' mind and therefore acting in the way of the 'colonizers.' . This is disappointing on many levels.  First, such a cultural jewelry item (the Squash Blossom necklace) is one that traditionally one must earn. In many cases, this jewelry item is only worn my elders in the tribal communities. And furthermore, such a cultural item bears concepts of strength and wisdom that perhaps a tribal desert matriarch carries. Secondly, wearing turquoise should not be intermingled with those individuals who don't respect its rich historical story. Speaking about my upbringing via the Navajo people, my mother's bloodline, turquoise is a amulet filled an abundance of power of protection, for it is given to the newborn baby and tied to the cradleboard for this reason. This Dine' philosophy of reasoning is to protect the baby from evil, but also so the baby can visually see the turquoise as they grow to live a 'beauty' way of life.

Furthermore, it is told to many (although I feel many young Navajo are not being taught this) Dine' that we should wear 'dootlizhi' / turquoise so that the Holy People will see us and therefore bless us. I think this is so amazing! To know and have faith that this stone will ensure that we are blessed in a good way by our spiritual ancestors, this is living a life free from American colonization.

Okay, I know many who read this might say, 'Who does she think she is telling us this?' I know everyone has the right to do whatever they want in their lives, but I think one should start to think twice about the origin of the cultural jewelry items they choose to 'adorn' themselves with. Acculturation of a tribal communities items is not in a good way, and it is not only the non-Indigenous people who are doing this, but other tribal people.

I only share this because I want to share knowledge and continue the dialogue about such things, this is how we all find understanding an respect for each other and grow stronger in our cultural ways.


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Jewelry expression

Zuni Pueblo-made necklace and inlay earring
Photo by Venaya Yazzie

Happy International Women's Day!

I am happy to have been born a female. Gender roles in my tribal cultural ways are very important. Much of what my desert people believe is rooted in the spiritual way of life - its an intangible way of belief and we have our roles as cultural people: male and female.

Much of what I am seeing in today's American culture seems to be working on 'blurring the lines' of what is male and female, but that is not the ways of my Navajo and Pueblo people. One concept of my culture that is outstanding though and that shares expression by both male and female individuals is that of southwest cultural adornment.

This image I share consists of a Zuni Pueblo-made necklace and inlay earrings. I love to wear this combination together. Both are primarily made up of shell product, that is mother-of-pearl shell.  I wore this today in recognition of the ways in which my desert matriarch 'adorn' themselves on a daily basis.


Saturday, March 4, 2017

Neo NavaHopi Art

New art by Venaya Yazzie

The season of change from the cold of winter to the first green plant-life of coming spring has got me inspire- I can be found inside the splendor of my studio at most times.

Lately I have been amidst 'neo' imagery of the desert matriarch. Much of what I paint concerns the adornment ways of the desert people in their cultural attire, hairstyle and of course, our tribal indigenous adornment of turquoise.

I grew up with this fine blue stone in my daily life, as I am sure most of the southwest indigenous people have. I know many of us carry with us still, the family heirloom pieces passed to us through our matriarchs.  The turquoise stone is the heart of my desert life and belief, it has always been this way. I'm pretty confident that if you were to talk about turquoise to a Dine' or Pueblo Indigenous person you would be blessed to hear some grand, beautyful story of their prized jewelry piece.

I am currently amidst a mini collection of paintings. I have this one above to share, its a modern depiction of a Hopi maiden- she wears a manta, turquoise earrings and she is adorned with her tradition Hopi women's hair style.

I wish you blessings and much inspiration.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Manyhogans artist and her art

Venaya Yazzie: Manyhogans artist and her art
Photo courtesy of artist.2017

Living or existing as an artist is always a "WIP", or 'work in progress.' I often see artists post this expression next to their art images posted on social media.

I was thinking on this an how it applies to my own life as an Indigenous artist in America. My modern experience and life as a southwestern desert  artist concerns my spirit- being in persistent 'Artway' motion. I think this existence has great parallel with that of my desert cultural way of being in the perpetual mindset of "hozho" or as some know it,  "beauyway." This expression is a Navajo way of being- its is directly derived from our Indigenous tongue, our sacred Navajo language.

I was raised to be an optimist. My grandmothers and aunties, and my plethora of cousin-sisters always lived lives with that 'hozho' presence. We are a female lineage of hopeful people. Its in our DNA, we have inherited from our desert ancestors, this beautyway of being is what makes us strong; it is from our matrilineal clanship that has blessed us. I, we are descendants from the Hooghanlani' people, or Manyhogans clan family. This clan has a rich, and complex 'sacred' origin.

As I was raised up by my maternal grandparents, I was instilled with the cultural knowledge that the Manyhogans clan family was, and are the ones who made their homes (Hooghans) in the immediate shadow of our emergence (sacred center mountain) of Dzilnaodithle, (Huerfano Peak). It is said that after we 'emerged' into this Fifth World (Glittering World) we wanted to protect the sacred space, so my ancestors made the homes close to it.  My clan family relatives live in this area to this day.

One of the many blessings or characteristics that were embued to us is that of being friendly, welcoming and being happy- always having a positive outlook on life. I see this to this day in my relatives, no matter our situation, we look for the goodness.

The other important gift of my ancestral lineage is that of the Creative life, skill to create objects of art. I see this too in the Manyhogans people- we are silversmiths, potters, weavers, poets, painters... I know I am blessed, for I am a desert person, born of Dine' and Hopi Pueblo lineage. What more could a girl ask for.

Its 'hozho' like that.

Blessings in all things

Friday, February 24, 2017

Indi Ears Designs.

YazzGrl Art Earrings
Photo courtesy of artist Venaya Yazzie

I've been amidst much of the creative-way.

I feel so blessed to be so inspired in this moment. These are my newest earring designs from my Indi Ears Designs.

The concept of these earrings are rooted in the traditional southwestern materials that are commonly made by southwestern Indigenous tribal people, including the Pueblo and Navajo groups.

The base of these earrings are wood and have been 'adorned' or applied with mother-of-pearl shell, coral and turquoise.  I make these in homage to my desert ancestors.

You can find these at my Square store here:

                                                         Indi Ear Designs


Saturday, February 18, 2017

EarART Designs

EarART Designs by Venaya Yazzie

This is a flashback photo from a trek to Antelope Canyon in western Navajoland.

These are my EarArt Designs earrings, which are inspired by my 2-D original paintings. These earrings are made on a wood base and are very light weight.  I haven't made this style of my earrings in awhile, but instead have changed the design.

When I used to sell these I would have people buy them just to be framed and to be displayed on their walls.