Santa Fe: Brandon Varela

So much to see and absorb while I’m  doing the amazing Equal Justice Residency at the Santa Fe Art Institute. Feeling very pampered, humbled and grateful to be here, and trying to make the most of every minute.

I’ve seen some wonderful art in the last two weeks, and met many inspiring and bold artists, writers, performers and creative practitioners. Last night I went to the opening of several shows at the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts in downtown Santa Fe. I got talking to artist Brandon Varela (Pascua Yaqui Tribe) about his work “Sovereignty in Art: An Approach from a Yaqui Artist” which I’ve included below. He is a young, soon-to-graduate, BFA student at the Institute of Native American Indian Arts. He described his beautiful painting in detail, and we shared brief notes on the symbolism of the deer. I’m going with other residents to the Deer Dances at one of the local villages which will be open to the public tomorrow. I know that Brandon’s beautiful painting and his words will be on my mind.

I’m reproducing his bio and statement below and look forward to seeing his future work.

Brandon Varela (Pascua Yaqui Tribe) “Sovereignty in Art: An Approach from a Yaqui Artist” 2016 oil on canvas.

Two large square canvases are turned to be triangles and are joined at their points. Three smaller square canvases, one above the join and two below the join provide more surface for the image. The background is a white brick wall with grey joints, the left and right canvases feature shopping bags with masks in front of them and the top small canvas has an image of an upturned deer head which may be a headdress. The edges of all canvases are painted red.
Brandon Varela (Pascua Yaqui Tribe) “Sovereignty in Art: An Approach from a Yaqui Artist” 2016 oil on canvas.

Artist bio: Brandon Varela was born in Tuscon, AZ and is an enrolled member of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe in Southern Arizona. Varela has always considered himself creative and imaginative, being the youngest child of his generation, he often found solace in art. Varela practices art in multiple mediums that involve traditional and contemporary methods. Varela uses a combination of Yaqui/indigenous imagery and techniques, and graphical commercial art to address concerns and conflicts within Indian Country. He is attending the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where his practice has evolved to include ceramics, photography, and screen printing, in addition to his paintings. Varela is slated to graduate in May 2018 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts.

Artist statement: You don’t always need to put yourself in my shoes to understand my art. Sometimes you, as the audience, are right where you need to be. What you see or don’t see is exactly how I want the work to be viewed. I am aware that my culture is mine and what I choose to share, and how, is up to me as a sovereign artist. But because this is the culture of all Yaqui people, what you’re looking at is not all mine to share. I do not have the right to discuss everything about my culture with my audience. However, what I do choose to share is a scene from ceremonial Yaqui dances, particularly an intermission where regalia is hung on the walls of the dance arbor. Left to Right there is a Yaqui pahko’ola (Pascola mask) which is made in the form of a javelina (peccary), in the center is the Yaqui maso kova (Deer Dancer Headdress) and finally to the right is a traditional pahko’ola mask depicting a humanoid goat-like mask. Items of regalia pre-date Spanish contact and hold a critical position in Yaqui culture. Without the dances and the songs, people lose their sense of connection with their culture. Since I am nowhere near my home, my connectivity with my culture lies with my art. I am grateful to be able to share my culture with my audience with this work.





2 Replies to “Santa Fe: Brandon Varela”

  1. Exciting to be discovering. Just finished Isaacsons book on Leonardo da Vinci and he was intensely curious about everything around him and asked questions. Your summary reminded me of his genius…. and you following in his footsteps.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *