For artist Deborah Jojola, print making is an ancestral connection to drawing on stone.
Although the art of print making can be found in almost every indigenous group around the world, the craft, says Jojola, is becoming a dying art form.
Jojola, who is Isleta and Jemez Pueblo, says print making has been present in Native American culture for centuries, citing the act of making prints with one’s hand as one of the original forms of print making.
As a painter, print maker, clay artist and Pueblo woman, the concept of boundaries is reoccurring as Jojola talks about her work and creative process.
She says she enjoys breaking boundaries within her chosen mediums, but is always mindful of personal boundaries and how much of her story she is able and willing to tell through the art and installations that she creates.
“There’s always a boundary for me because we can only tell so much of our story,” says Jojola. “I think the boundaries as an artist that I break is just getting more innovative with traditional techniques, and the boundaries that I don’t like to cross are the traditional boundaries as a Native woman living on the reservation close to my pueblo.”
Customarily, prints are intended to be a set of near exact replicas of one another. But, Jojola says, that theory got old quick and to stay inspired as an artist it’s important for her to change her work and style.
So, she began finding new ways to utilize print making, such as incorporating old photographs. In some of her prints, Jojola has incorporated old photos of Pueblo and Hopi life that she found at the Smithsonian. She has also printed on diverse material, such as rusted metal she’s found.
And, if she gets tired of a print, it’s not uncommon for her to cut it up and collage it into another piece of art, such as one of her mixed media tablitas.
Jojola often uses tablita, rather than square-shaped surfaces to print or paint on, as another way to preserve past art forms and be innovative all at once. A tablita is a headdress worn by women during traditional Pueblo dances.
Jojola, a runner, says she is attracted to the physical demands of print making and that it is a craft that requires hard work of not only an artistic nature but a physical nature, as the limestone stones and equipment used in stone lithography, for example, are heavy and laborious.
The time-consuming and labor-intensive quality of print making is one reason she feels it is becoming a antiquated art form. But, preserving endangered art forms is a driving motivation for Jojola, who has revived the art form of Pueblo frescos using natural pigment paint.
She said she learned of ancient kivas where up to 200 layers of frescos and murals painted with natural pigments were found, making her wonder why this art form isn’t being practiced today.
Thus, she took it upon herself to begin incorporating Pueblo frescos, sometimes painted on clay tablita shaped panels, into her artwork and installations.
Jojola, who has an associate of fine arts from the Institute of American Indian Arts, and a BFA and MFA from the University of New Mexico, practices several types of print making, including relief, linolium cut, color reduction, lithography, intaglio, spirograph and stamping.
She has been working as a professional artist for close to 30 years and has been an adjunct professor of fine arts at UNM and at IAIA from 2009-11.
She has shown her work throughout New Nexico and the United States, and as far away as Ottowa, Canada, and Yekaterinburg, Russia.
On her scrolls, which are up to 10 and 11 feet in length, Jojola uses different methods of printing on Japanese paper to depict Pueblo scenes, which she then hangs from the ceiling in her installations, which always contain a narrative element.
During the summer of 2012, Jojola and her scrolls traveled to Yekaterinburg Museum of Fine Arts in Russia for an art show with other Native artists, including Frank Buffalo Hyde, Nez Perce and Onondaga, and Luzene Hill, Cherokee.
Jojola’s installation was titled “A Peek Into My World,” and included five of her scrolls. In her installations, Jojola enjoys using organic material, such as stones, reeds and the red earth of Jemez Pueblo and white earth of Isleta Pueblo.
However, due to issues with international customs, she was unable to transport such material to Russia and instead used earth and stones from Yekaterinburg that she went out and collected.
“A Peek Into My World” also traveled to Siberia and will be coming to the 516 Gallery in Albuquerque in early spring.
In an art show titled “Sole Sister,” dedicated to Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, at the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts in Santa Fe, Jojola was able to use organic material found a little closer to home in the creation of her installation.
Jojola wanted to create an image of the saint, but during her research she found herself puzzled as to why she would leave her indigenous culture to become a Catholic.
“To me, that was kind of hard to believe, because I love what we do and I love our tradition and I’m really a strong believer of how we do things and everything is related to the earth and the elements,” said Jojola.
“So what I did was I decided to step back and research what were we doing as Pueblo people at that time of her making this decision in her life.”
What she found was that during the mid 1600s, when Saint Kateri, a Mohawk woman, was alive in present-day New York, Isleta people were painting frescos and murals in their kivas, making willow baskets for ceremonial items and telling their stories through these art forms.
“I wanted to do an image of a woman because our women were the keepers of the kivas, they (helped) the medicine men and they were once the healers of our people, too,” said Jojola.
“We were the ones that were bringing life to the earth and helping other women bring life to the earth. We were the midwives before midwives even had a name.
“The role of women were so important that I did a willow woman out of just weaving and shaping her, like a spirit being. No solidified body, almost like a ghost or a cocoon of something that has been lifted and is above us.”
The result was an installation titled “Allegorical Beliefs,” for which she created a life-size female form woven entirely out of willow harvested from along the Rio Grande.
For the installation, Jojola sought out a corner space in which to stand her willow woman upon the red and white earth, designed to represent the sun and the paths we take as humans.
Behind her are frescos on clay and hanging before her, as a boundary characteristic of Jojola’s work, are the scrolls printed with images that represent the roles of women.
The scrolls are all printed on Japanese paper, which she says represents the delicateness of culture.
Of print making, Jojola quotes a friend and fellow artist, saying, “The highest science becomes an art and the highest art is a science.”
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