Indigenous arts magazine celebrates debut

By Carmenlita Chief
Special to the Times

PHOENIX, March 15, 2012

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(Special to the Times - Carmenlita Chief)

TOP: "Atokal," by Diné artist Jeff Slim, graces the front cover of the first issue of Ziindi, an independent indigenous arts magazine.

BOTTOM: The first issue of Ziindi magazine featured artists, left to right, Averian Chee, Tom Greyeyes, Shamie Encinas and Baje Whitethorne Jr., shown with magazine co-founders Damian Jim and Michelle Ponce.

D owntown Civic Space Park was the place to be on the evening of March 3 for those who enjoy a fresh combination of art and live music created by the indigenous community's newest crop of artists.

While the many of the usual Native American art-goers and artists flocked to the Heard Museum for the annual Indian Market, a much younger and contemporary crowd ventured downtown to celebrate the debut of Ziindi, a new independent magazine (or zine, as the cool kids say) promoting the work of young and upcoming Native American artists.

Pronounced zin-dee, the publication is the brainchild of Diné artist and graphic designer Damian Jim and fellow friend and artist Michelle Ponce.

Jim and Ponce have digested their fair share of other zines produced in the region over the years and, after a while, they began noticing that many "seemed to be more about cramming as much stuff as possible into an issue rather than placing emphasis on the art itself," said Jim.

The duo felt inclined to create a zine that would make the sharing of art within the indigenous community, especially the youth, its primary focus.

Ziindi's aim is to instill inspiration and confidence in the creative spirits of aspiring young Native artists - especially those living on reservations.

"A lot of them don't get the chance to come out to art shows like this," said Jim.

He hopes that Ziindi, which is available for free in an online and printed booklet format, will make indigenous art more accessible for those whose exposure opportunities are limited.

"It's all about sharing and inspiring," he said.

The 14-page, full-color debut issue spotlights the work of eight local and regional artists including ARMZ, Averian Chee, Bahe Whitethorne Jr., Damian Jim, Jeff Slim, Jeremy Arviso, Shamie Encinas and Tom Greyeyes.

All are storytellers on canvas and digital media who employ contemporary art techniques to express their connections to traditional culture while embracing the future.

Each featured artist has a large image of a selected art piece in the 5 1/2-x-8 1/2 zine booklet. Along with each piece is a paragraph about the artist, their tribal affiliations, artistic influences, and a self-description about their style of art.

The first edition was funded entirely by Jim, a demonstration of the passion he has for promoting young and talented artists. He and Ponce plan for the zine to be a quarterly publication.

"This issue didn't include any poetry or written works but we're still open to receiving stuff like that," Jim said. "We will keep on promoting different art and artists who are unique. It's definitely an opportunity to share."

Jeff Slim and Averian Chee, who held their first joint gallery showing in Phoenix last September, each had an art piece that was selected for the front and back covers, respectively.

It was at their gallery opening reception that they were approached by Jim and Ponce with an invitation to showcase their work in the first issue of Ziindi.

"I was already familiar with Damian's work so it didn't take much for me to get onboard with the zine," Chee said.

In days leading up to the event Civic Space Park, Chee and Slim covered the gallery windows with contemporary Navajo images using the distinct stencil style they are known for.

As the event continued into the night, Chee expressed how productive the evening's networking had been for him.

"I am definitely pleased with the turnout," he said. "It was a busy day. I've gotten a lot of contacts throughout the evening. People from other reservations have offered me invites to show my artwork at their events."

Included in those invites was to speak to a group of students about his experiences as an artist.

Fellow Ziindi artist Bahe Whitethorne Jr. also said he was approached by Jim and Ponce and was asked to be a featured artist. He accepted the invitation without hesitation, saying the opportunity was fate guiding him along the path to becoming a full-time artist.

"I used to be employed as a graphic designer with Salina Bookshelf in Flagstaff, and then the declining economic climate hit," he said. "I figured that leaving the company was a sign of some sort, telling me that it was time to do my own thing."

Whitethorne's cousin, Jerrel Singer, from Flagstaff, helped promote Whitethorne's artwork and the sale of limited edition T-shirts that were only available for purchase at the event.

Singer, himself an artist who has dabbled in acrylic and abstract work for the past three years, said Whitethorne lent his support at a gallery showing of Singer's artwork a few nights before.

"In return for Bahe's assistance, I'm here this evening to help him out," Singer said. "He helps me and I help him. We lean on each other."

Tom Greyeyes, who teaches art on the San Carlos Apache reservation, echoed Singer's sentiments on the vibe of family, support, and community.

The evening was much like to a homecoming.

"I have seen all my friends here at this event that I have missed since I've moved to San Carlos," Greyeyes said.

Regarding the entire evening and the debut of Ziindi, Greyeyes enthusiastically said, "This feels like a movement. I'm excited just to be in it! I can't believe I'm here with these people, and I can feel the movement growing. I can't wait until it goes to the next level."

Ziindi co-creators Ponce and Jim kicked off the release celebration for Ziindi at around 6 p.m. on March 3.

Ponce was pleased with the way the event unfolded.

"Everyone seemed to be having a great time," she said. "The artists got to talk about their artwork, show it, and really create the base for spreading awareness of what they do."

Ponce was dedicated to creating an event in which the artists and the space were honored.

"The biggest challenge was just making sure that I was meticulous with the details as far as ensuring that the art work was situated under favorable lighting and each of the pieces had tags," she said.

"I wanted to make sure that it looked like something that was cared a great deal for," she said.

In addition to the featured Ziindi artists, Julius Badoni and Sean Clark showed their work outside the gallery space as guest artists.

Providing the evening's musical vibe were DJ Darth Midi-ous, Byron Fenix, JusDonald, and the Diné band Ethan-103.


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