2018 Viola Award Finalist for Innovation

Hope and Trauma in a Poisoned Land explored the impact of uranium mining on Navajo lands and people. The art exhibition featured work by twenty local and regional artists, including Navajo and non-Native artists. The exhibition was open August 15 – October 28, 2017, at the Coconino Center for the Arts.

The Project Director was Ann Collier, and Project Consultant Davona Blackhorse. The curators for the exhibition were Shawn Skabelund and Travis Iurato. They planned and developed the four-day training program for participating artists, which took the group to Cameron to hear from Navajo community members and see abandoned uranium mines.

Through the participating artists, Hope and Trauma shared stories and perspectives from Navajo people of their experiences due to radiation-related impacts to their bodies, their land, their water, their animals, and the natural materials and objects they use in their everyday lives. Art work was based on a series of interactions, shared stories, and educational programs that took place in Cameron, Arizona, and in Flagstaff, in October 2016. Artists attended the four-day intensive education program which immersed them in the landscape where uranium mining and contamination has occurred on the Navajo Nation. They learned from Navajo community members, scientists, health care professionals, mental health professionals, and other experts about the impacts of uranium mining.

Virtual reality headset by artist Klee Benally, photo by Tom Alexander

Artwork in the exhibition included sculpture, painting, photography, installation art, textiles, film, virtual reality film, poetry, and performance. The participating artists were: Jeremy Singer, Venaya Yazzie, Helen Padilla, Anna Tsouhlarakis, Kim Hahn, Jane Lilly Benale, Esther Belin, Klee Benally, Mark Neumann, Elisa Rosales, Rebekah Nordstrom, Elbert Dayzie, Jocelyne Champagne Shiner, Jerrel Singer, Edie Dillon, Frederica Hall, Chip Thomas, Ann Collier, Malcolm Benally, Amy Martin, Pash Galbavy, Milton Tso, Debra Edgerton, and the Death Convention Singers.

The nomination letter:

The exhibit and the in-depth workshop to develop it with regional and Indigenous artists without parallel. Its creative, visionary, response to real-world trauma and conflict and a pathway out of it through creative expression is provocative and probing and resonant. The collaboration between psychologists, theorists, artists of all mediums resulted in a breathtaking exhibit.

I value the exhibit for all of these reasons, but I also measure its influence by the impact that the exhibit had on students enrolled in my senior-in-college-level course on Southwest literature. They have been reading about resource extraction in the Southwest and its impact on communities, and this exhibit resonated in visceral ways and communicated truths that must be witnessed and embodied.

As curator, Shawn Skabelund was instrumental in facilitating this process and providing an infrastructure for artists to workshop and develop their ideas. I understand if this project commands attention as a whole instead and know that commendation would be equally meaningful.

Exhibition website >