The Past Is Still Present at Scottsdale Public Art’s New Indigenous Art Exhibit


“The past is always present” is the central theme of Scottsdale’s new public art exhibit “FIRST: Native American Artists of Arizona.”

For potter Ron Carlos, a member of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian community who helped curate the exhibit, that means seeing traditional designs and patterns in contemporary mediums.

“They bring this part of their cultural past into the future with them,” he says.

“FIRST” has been on display since last month at the Civic Center Public Gallery inside the Scottsdale Civic Center Library, 3839 North Drinkwater Boulevard, Scottsdale. It runs until March 30, but at 10 a.m. tomorrow (Friday February 11) you can attend a reception at the gallery with some of the artists whose work is in the exhibition.

The exhibition features over a dozen artists representing many tribes with the aim of not only telling stories of the past, but also showcasing modern contemporary Indigenous artists who are breaking molds today.

Among the various mediums are decorated classical string instruments painted by Thomas “Breeze” Marcus. The collection of works titled “Suite for the Akimel” pays homage to the Akimel River with intricate white lines rushing over the wooden instruments in geometric paths.

Although the artwork is steeped in the rich history of the Akimel O’odham and their ancestral lands, Marcus noted that classical string instruments are not often associated with indigenous peoples.

“Why not?” he asks. Marcus hopes more people will recognize current Indigenous artists as modern creatives who can draw inspiration from tradition while being at the forefront of innovative art.

To conceptualize “FIRST”, Wendy Raisanen, Curator of Collections and Exhibits at Scottsdale Public Art, was inspired by her personal fascination with Indigenous art.

“When I was little, I was always hanging out in the library, and there was this whole selection of Native American stories,” she says. “I read every one of them. I thought it would be really exciting to have modern and current artists doing Native American art.

Potter says his main goal is to uplift promising Indigenous artists – some of whom struggle to feel like their art is “worthy of a


For artist Jessie Yazzie, prison is where he honed his craft, and now his paintings hang on the white walls of this Scottsdale gallery.

From small portraits on graphite board to acrylic murals, Yazzie’s style has evolved and her art is quickly becoming a fixture in the valley.

Yazzie says the sketches, tattoos and murals became projects in prison that kept him from getting involved in drugs and fighting.

“Having the art to ground me and keep me focused on a central idea of ​​becoming an artist has helped me more than I could explain,” he says. “It was therapy. It was a passion.”

Yazzie says it’s important for Indigenous artists to be recognized in a public space.

“I know Scottsdale is a really big hub for Native American art, but a lot of Native American art is distributed by galleries that don’t really have their interests at heart,” he says. “This exhibition is really cool because they have artists that I know well and know their values. So it’s nice to see some familiar faces in this gallery.”

FIRST: Native American Artists of Arizona Reception. 10 a.m. on Friday, February 11. Scottsdale Public Art at the Civic Center Public Gallery, 3839 North Drinkwater Boulevard, Scottsdale. The exhibition continues until March 30. Learn more here.


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