May 15, 2023

Aliens Among the Diné

         Diné (Navajo) artist Duhon James works in wood and linoleum block printmaking, using lots of symbols of his home, such as sheep, corn, hogans, and stars.  But to these traditional symbols he adds… space aliens.  I don’t know whether James thinks of his depictions as sci fi or fantasy, exactly, but I do get the idea that he thinks of them as speculative.  His aliens seem to be about connections, the unknown, and maybe a bit of satire.  In the first piece a UFO is beaming up a traditional hogan, while the caption Wóshdę́ę́ says “Come In.”  This leaves a lot of questions: are the aliens welcoming the people?  Is this frightening or awe-inspiring?  What will happen next?  Questions are what speculative fiction is all about.
        The next piece says “Yá’át’ééh,” which means “Greetings,” or “Hi.”  The aliens break with alien tradition by wearing 
traditional Di
né hats and hairstyles, emphasizing both the connections with the people and the questions about those connections.  The font of the text is old-fashioned computer font, and I tried to look up the symbol at the bottom to see whether it’s a traditional Diné symbol, but I couldn’t find out what it is.
        The third piece is entitled “Great Seal of the Abduction,” and the seal in question is the Great Seal of the Navajo Nation.  Once again we’re repeating this theme of having all the symbols of a traditional Navajo life being beamed up by a UFO.  I don’t know exactly what messages James is expressing, or what vibes Diné viewers might be getting, but for me these seem to raise questions about how to embrace and be embraced by the new, modern, ever-evolving times, 
without being completely uprooted and subsumed.
        For all the potentially serious questions, however, these pieces also definitely have a sense of humor and funky charm that appeals to a lot of people.

[Pictures: Wóshdę́ę́’ linoleum block print by Duhon James;

For What We are Exposed & Encountered to the Star People, linoleum block print by James;

Great Seal of the Abduction, linoleum block print with watercolor by James (Images from First American Art Magazine and Etsy shop DuhonJames).]


Kristin said...

Interesting and I wonder what it all means.

Kristin said...

After reading your blog post, I went looking for more info. Maybe you already saw this.

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Yeah, that was one of my sources. Thanks, though!

Donna B. McNicol said...

Interesting...I'm one who really thinks the aliens were here many years ago.