‘Artistic autonomy’: Native artists tell stories in unexpected murals in hotel rooms
By Colleen Keane
Special to the Times
You almost need sunglasses when you walk into room 401 of the Nativo Lodge.
Like light often does, it makes you feel brighter and more cheerful. Dazzling images of large roses and sparkling energetic designs surround the room, while mirrors reflect the incoming sun.
But in a phone interview with the Times, artist Rylin Becenti said her mural work of art has a larger story to tell.
“I like that people can feel warm and light-hearted, although it’s more complicated than that,” said Becenti who is from Sawmill, Arizona.
Becenti calls her installation at the Nativo Lodge “Glittering World,” referring to the current world we live in.
“We think about (this) environment as our family, we co-exist with it,” she said.
Becenti hopes her work will open up conversations about harmony and justice.
“(Through) the use of mirrors, I want people to reflect on accountability,” she said pointing out that from room 401 she could see the Navajo south mountain, Tsoodzil, from where she worked for several weeks.
“It was nice to be reminded of the responsibility I have to my home,” she said.
She added that in the light nothing can be hidden, a point she makes by giving the flowers in her mural eyes and utilizing the natural light of the sun.
Becenti is a multi-disciplinary artist. She refers to herself as a conceptual artist addressing themes such as reproductive, social and environmental justice and food and health equity in her art.
Becenti’s installation is one of many designed by indigenous artists at the Nativo Lodge in Albuquerque located at San Mateo Blvd. exit off Interstate 25.
In room 406, artist Roberta Begay presents a bold and brightly colored female figure in western dress and graffiti art pops out that gives her identity – Bitter Water Clan.
“That’s my clan, too,” said Gloria Begay, a Diné educator and health advocate, who joined the tour of rooms.
In room 526, where a breakdown of historic events covers the entire side of one wall, artist Colleen Gorman gives an indigenous view of time.
Explaining her perception in an online statement, Gorman wrote, “The (Indigenous) calendar is more accurate than today’s calendar and can map out our location in time and space around the Milky Way.”
She added, “I have been studying the 260-day sacred calendar for 13 years through the Indigenous Research Center. You could say I’m a calendar keeper.”
“I learned a lot,” said Gloria Begay, who conducts Navajo astronomy workshops.
In room 517, Nanibah Chacon honors Diné traditions through images of a bold, strong female figure, a chief’s blanket and the legendary bluebird in her installation “Creation at Dawn.”
In her artist statement, she said that the woman depicted in the design represents the holy deity Changing Woman and the chief’s blanket design represents First Man.
The bluebirds signify all that is sacred and meaningful in Navajo thought and way.
Becenti, Begay, Gorman and Chacon, all members of the Navajo Nation, are four of many artists from tribes, nations and Pueblos, located in New Mexico, who have designed rooms at the Nativo Lodge.
The Nativo Lodge is billed as the “most artsiest” hotel in Albuquerque.
Hotel President Nate Wells said eventually all 145 rooms will be indigenous designed.
“The whole point of our company existing is cultural preservation,” he said. “Nativo Lodge typically tells the story of our indigenous roots in a forward-looking manner.”
Wells said each of the artists gets to tell their story in their own way.
“They have complete creative artistic autonomy to tell the story in a way they see fit,” he said.
Reflecting on the artwork, Gloria Begay said, “The guests’ rooms are just beautiful, original paintings. I am so proud of the artists. I appreciate seeing the Navajo artists.
She added that she’d never seen anything like it in the non-Native world.
“Maybe in Native-owned hotels, but not in non-Native ones,” she said. “This is very unique.”
Michael Toya of Jemez Pueblo designed the exterior of the building, which stands out from the freeway as you pass by.
Or, you could decide to turn around and take a look at the distinctive hotel and see for yourself.
Information: nativolodge.com and find artists on Facebook.