Color Riot! How Color Changed Navajo Textiles

September 11, 2021–January 2, 2022

“The textiles presented in this exhibition are creations of weavers who wove for themselves—they are vibrant and unrestrained in both color and design.” 

—Co-curator Velma Kee Craig (Diné)
 

Change has always been a hallmark of Navajo (Diné) textile design, with weavers’ individualism a running thread. With Diné perspectives and the technical mastery of weavers at the heart of Color Riot!, this exhibition—featuring 70 bold artworks from 1860–1930 and the present —celebrates the courage and vision to experiment.

The historical textiles are rooted in the experiences of Navajo people between 1863 and 1868, when the United States government forcibly marched more than 10,000 Navajo to Bosque Redondo, an internment camp at Fort Sumner, New Mexico. In 1868, the survivors signed a treaty as a sovereign nation and returned home to a reservation.

During and after this time, Navajo weavers incorporated stylistic features from Hispanic textiles, bright aniline dyes, and wool yarns mass-produced in the Philadelphia neighborhood of Germantown. With older trading networks disrupted, weavers had unprecedented freedom to experiment and turned to new sources of inspiration. It was only after the 1890s that non-Native traders in the Southwest developed design constraints to appeal to rug buyers’ tastes. The vivid expressions of ingenuity and autonomy made in the decades after Bosque Redondo and at present testify to the resilience of Navajo communities and the innovation possible in this medium.

Color Riot! was organized by the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona. It was co-curated by three Andrew W. Mellon Fellows—Velma Kee Craig (Diné); Natalia Miles (Diné/Akimel O’Otham/Apache), and Ninabah Winton (Diné)—working with collector and textile specialist Carol Ann Mackay and Ann Marshall, the Heard’s Director of Research. 
 
Laura J. Allen, MAM’s Curator of Native American Art, coordinated its presentation at the Montclair Art Museum. An additional room in our installation, developed with ArtTable Fellow Larissa Nez (Diné), highlights the beauty of weaving as a connective practice for Diné people.

Images

Venancio Francis Aragon (Navajo, b. 1985)
Prism of Emotions, 2019
Merino/mohair yarns, aniline and natural dyes
Heard Museum Collection
Image: Craig Smith, Courtesy of the Heard Museum

Artist Once Known (Navajo)
Transitional blanket, ca. 1900
Handspun wool, aniline dyes
Heard Museum Collection
Image: Craig Smith, Courtesy of the Heard Museum

Melissa Cody (Navajo, b. 1983) 
The Dopamine Regression, 2010
Three-ply commercial wool yarn, aniline dyes
Collection of Arthur and Linda Pelberg
Image: Edward C. Robison III, Courtesy of the artist and Garth Greenan Gallery, New York

Velma Kee Craig (Navajo, b. 1977)
Bar Code/QR Code, 2013
One-ply commercial yarn, aniline dyes
Heard Museum Collection
Image: Craig Smith, Courtesy of the Heard Museum

Artist Once Known (Navajo)
Germantown textile, ca. 1885
Four-ply commercial yarn, aniline dyes
Heard Museum Collection, Gift of Mrs. Thelma Kieckhefer
Image: Craig Smith, Courtesy of the Heard Museum

This exhibition is made possible with major support provided by the Kemper and Ethel Marley Foundation, sustaining support from patrons of the Grand Gallery Exhibition Fund, and additional support by the Arizona Commission on the Arts and the Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture.