Ana Malinalli X Gutiérrez Sisneros
I met Nani Chacón in 2014, when she was the official artist for the national Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social conference, hosted by Northern New Mexico College in El Rito, Nuevo México. In 2015, I noticed a dramatic mural of Doña Maclovia Zamora she had painted on a drugstore wall in the Barelas neighborhood of Albuquerque. In the summer of 2017, I saw a woman painting on an exterior wall of the Española Valley Fiber Arts Center (EVFAC) in Española’s Mainstreet neighborhood. It was Chacón, the Navajo-Xicana artist from New Mexico.
The River Flows Through It is the name of Chacón’s new mural at EVFAC. It bears a unique feminine beauty. Two women are depicted spinning beautiful flowers into a magic thread that drops out of sight, towards the earth. “La ebra de la vida, the thread of life,” pensé yo.
I asked Ms. Chacón what the mural represents to her. She said that it speaks to the unique and creative efforts of fiber artists of the Española and the Río Grande valleys of northern New Mexico who have a long history there. As a part of this work, with support from the EVFAC, she presented a mural apprentice workshop to five Española youth.
Three different techniques unique to different parts of New Mexico’s Río Grande Valley can be seen in the mural. The motif around the windows is indicative of Navajo and Río Grande rugs, as well as common patterns used throughout the Southwest. The stripes reflect manta embroidery, specific to Pueblo tribes of the region and the Pueblo influence on Spanish embroidery. The flower motif that flows throughout the mural is colcha embroidery, a technique handed down through generations. In northern New Mexico, colcha embroidery patterns took on a regional aesthetic, incorporating stylized motifs of local flowers and birds.
Butterflies and the cochineal bug, used for natural dye, are depicted. Chacón said that the two women in the mural pay homage to an artist who transforms fiber into a vision. One has the gift of youth, the other the gift of experience. They are in the beginning stages of fiber art creation, processing the fiber into thread or yarn. This act is the essence that connects the artist to the landscape, history and community. It is a representation that ties historical traditions to the future.
Nani Chacón is the third woman I have seen painting a mural or murals in Española in the almost 35 years I have lived there. Patricia Rodríguez was the first, in the 1990s, during Mainstreet endeavors, when director Carol Guzmán commissioned her. One of Rodríguez’s works is the train mural on the west wall of the Mainstreet Theatre. Rodríguez was one of the founders of Las Mujeres Muralistas, in the Mission District of San Francisco, California. It is relevant to note that the Chicano Mural Movement began in the 1960s, when artists in the Southwest began painting buildings, schools, churches and other public areas in Mexican-American barrios, or neighborhoods. They were mostly male artists, who richly conveyed social justice issues relevant to Mexican and Latino-Americans. The perspectives of women artists remained unrepresented.
Enter Las Mujeres Muralistas, an all-women art collective founded by Patricia Rodríguez, Graciela Carrillo, Consuela Méndez and Irene Pérez in the early 1970s. Their mural art celebrated the culture and contributions of Mexican-American and Latina women, acclaiming womanhood, plus the sociopolitical issues of the day.
In the footsteps of these gran mujeres, our fore-mothers of arte femenina, Nani Chacón has come into her own, painting in many different locations, as you can see at her website (www.naniChacón.com). The paintings and murals that Chacón produces are indeed celebrations of womanhood. Her new mural in Española was dedicated in September 2017. This east wall, this resolana, is a sacred place, as the east is where, every morning, we greet jóhonaaéí, the sun, the closest star to our planet. May the grace of that sun that gives us four things—light, warmth, life and love—shine upon beautiful Nani Chacón and the loved ones who surround her.
Ana Malinalli X Gutiérrez Sisneros, an Advanced Practice Psychiatric Nurse, has practiced rural nursing for 35 years. She is Associate Professor of Nursing at Northern New Mexico College and owns a business, MalinalCo Nursing Consultants. Sisneros has done research with recovering heroin addicts in Río Arriba County, and recently completed a qualitative study exploring ethnic identity as a mediator of mental health amongst the genízaro.