SONG OF LAMENT:
W/ ESTHER BELIN
Chip Thomas and Esther Belin
American, b. 1957, and Diné, b. 1968
Song of Lament
Site-specific paper mural
This collaborative work between Chip Thomas and Esther Belin recounts the effects that the COVID-19 global health crisis has had on Indigenous communities and the ways in which it has illuminated the status and lived reality that Indigenous peoples face. “I wanted to illuminate the state of invisibility, insignificance and erasure that affects Indigenous peoples in the U.S., as well as the false hope they have had in the U.S. government,” said Belin.
The work itself is arresting in its visuality and layered in its composition. A man in the foreground stands, head tilted back while taking a sip of a beverage, with his arm almost in a salute position while a mural of an elder’s face stares out with piercing gaze at the viewer – almost interrogating the viewer and demanding them take note of the words written by Belin. The poem brings to mind thoughts or notions about conflict or war – which is intentional. Belin notes that there has been a sustained conflict upon Indigenous communities by the United States Government, only further illuminated and amplified by the realities the Covid-19 pandemic has created.
The impact that the coronavirus pandemic has had on Indigenous peoples, and specifically on the Diné Nation where Belin is from and Thomas lives and works, has been tremendous, revealing the precarious nature of the healthcare system and other essential infrastructures in the community. “It took a global pandemic for non-Indians to experience a comparable state of unrest that tribal people have had to adapt to in order to survive,” shared Belin. “The poem is meant to draw out the profound emotions of grief and sorrow, to ignite a visceral somatic experience.”
Chip Thomas (jetsonorama), American, b. 1957
Chip Thomas, a.k.a. “jetsonorama,” is a photographer, public artist, activist and physician who has been working between Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon on the Navajo Nation since 1987. There he coordinates the Painted Desert Project, a community building project which manifests as a constellation of murals across the Navajo Nation painted by artists from all over the rez and the world. These murals aim to reflect love and appreciation of the rich history shared by the Navajo people back to Navajo people.
As a member of the Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative, Thomas appreciates the opportunity to be part of a community of like-minded, socially engaged artists. You can find his large-scale photographs throughout the northern Arizona desert pasted on the roadside and on the sides of houses, and on the graphics and campaign materials of the People’s Climate March, Justseeds and 350.org campaign for lower carbon emissions.
Thomas was a 2018 recipient of a Kindle Project artist’s gift and in 2020 was one of a handful of artists chosen by the United Nations to recognize the 75th anniversary of the organization’s founding. Artists were chosen to generate work that “contributes to the envisioning and shaping of a more resilient and sustainable future. It is hoped that this work will amplify and accelerate implementation of the UN Global Sustainability Goals with a focus on communities and climate action.”
Esther G. Belin, Diné, b. 1968
Esther G. Belin, a writer and multimedia artist, is a citizen of the Navajo Nation and lives in southwest Colorado. She is a second-generation off-reservation Native American, a byproduct of the United States’ federal Indian policies of termination and relocation. Her art and writing reflect the historical trauma from those policies as well as the philosophy of Sa'ah Naagháí Bik’eh Hózho, the worldview of the Navajo People.
Belin’s writing is widely anthologized. Her latest volume of poetry, Of Cartography, examines identity politics, checkerboard land status, and the interplay of words (abstraction) and image (realism). In 2000, she won the American Book Award for her first book of poetry, From the Belly of My Beauty. She holds degrees from Antioch University, the Institute of American Indian Arts and the University of California at Berkeley.
Belin is currently a faculty mentor in the Low-Residency MFA program at the Institute for American Indian Arts.