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The Heated Debate Surrounding Navajo Sand Painting

Essay by review  •  March 29, 2011  •  Essay  •  1,119 Words (5 Pages)  •  909 Views

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One of the problems that many societies face is the commercialization of their art work and sacred ceremonies and that's exactly what is happening to the Navajo people or Dine as they call themselves. This conflict has arisen because certain artists have been using the visual imagery of traditional Navajo sand paintings and the magery taken from them as subject matter that is being woven into rugs and artwork that is being sold for profit. This has resulted in a heated debate that has literally split the Navajo people into two separate groups, those that don't mind the use of sand painting imagery and those that feel that it is wrong to use the symbols and forms of a sacred ritual for common artwork. This has sparked such a storm of controversy because the sand paintings are a Navajo art that is used in healing ceremonies and the images created by the tribes medicine men that comprise these sand paintings help to channel powerful forces used for healing and continued health. That's why this has proven to be a divisive subject that continues to pit tribesmen against tribesmen and doesn't look like it will be resolved to anyone's satisfaction in the near future.

Those Navajo that support the use of sand painting imagery and symbolism feel that the use of it as an art form is a good method for preserving the symbolism that has been passed down from generation to generation so that future generations may be able to appreciate and benefit from the artwork as well. This desire to preserve the long standing tradition of sand painting started in the late 1940's as certain medicine men and weavers noticed fewer and fewer young people entering in apprenticeships to learn the sacred symbolism and decided that something had to be done. In an effort to save this information certain weavers started to weave the imagery in their rugs and permanent sand paintings were created as well with careful attention being paid to change the designs slightly to protect the religious significance of these creations since they are being viewed by the general public (www.penfieldgallery.com).

However as these sand paintings started to get attention more and more people, particularly non-Navajo, became interested in them and the imagery associated with them and the demand for them as sale items grew as people started to buy them solely for there use as artwork without any respect for the original idea of preservation. This made those Navajo who were already upset with there creation in the first place angrier and less likely to see these creations as a good thing and felt that they shouldn't have been created in the first place and that it was wrong to use them in this manner. Traditionally the sand paintings were destroyed after the healing ceremonies and nothing remained of the work to be viewed afterwards. That was why they felt so strongly against saving them or creating them solely for their educational value and later there value as an art form no matter what the reasons being championed.

This fear of their sacred imagery and symbols being used in common art to sell to non- Navajos as well as there fellow tribesmen was obviously a reasonable one because the sale of sand paintings continues to prove lucrative to this day. This can be seen by the fact that both websites provided for the assignment offer sand paintings at a high price and justify it by saying that the paintings themselves have been altered so that their isn't any aspects that would render the piece being sold sacred or disrespectful to the Navajo religion (www.navajosandpainting.net). This is obviously just an attempt to be politically correct and appeasing to those people they are offending to make a profit.

While the big argument has always been to let the artists do what they want to do and that any attempt to keep them from doing something is going against their "freedom

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