Friday, July 26, 2013

Navajo Dry-Painting

This is a Navajo dry-painting made in colored sand. (20th century)   Sand painting is a type of art where the artist(s) pours colored sands, and/or powered pigments from minerals or crystals, to make a piece of artwork.  These paintings where temporary works prepared in ritual for religious or healing ceremonies and where swept away when the ceremony was complete.  Many dry-paintings depicted spiritual living beings and normally contained Yeibicheii or the Holy People in ritual for healing purposes.

These works of art where prepared by the tribes Medicine Man (Hatalii) and where painted on the ground of a Hogan, the primary traditional home of the Navajo people where the ceremony took place.  The Hatalii used gypsum, ochre, sandstone, and charcoal to make white, yellow, red, and black respectively. Mixing these elements yielded blues, browns, pinks and other variations of those colors where achieved by mixing in additional materials such as corn mean, pollen, powdered roots and bark.  As many as 30 of these sand paintings where prepared by the Hatalii (with assistance) for a single religious or healing ceremony.  After each painting is completed the Hatalii checks for work to ensure that the painting symbolizes harmony, because the accuracy of the work is believed to determine the efficiency of the ceremony.  Finally after the ceremony was complete the sand painting was destroyed giving these paintings a total life of about 12 hours.

Due to the holiness of these paintings, three laws are known to have surrounded the ritual of sand painting.
1.      Woman able to bare children cannot sing the chants associated with the Yeibicheii.  This is because the ceremony is thought to have the ability to possibly injure an unborn child.
2.      One cannot pretend, mock, or mimic a Hatalii in anyway or you can be subject to punishment by the Hatalii or Yeibicheii.
3.      Sand paintings cannot be photographed because the flow of ceremony cannot be disrupted to achieve maximum effectiveness.

Although sand painting where most commonly known to be Navajo dry-painting was also practiced by Australian Aborigines, Tibetan and Buddhist monks, and Southwestern United States Native Americans.

Navajo sandpainting art by Baatsoslanii et al. (1978)

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