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A Modern Kiva Mural

Permanent Installation


A brilliant mural painting tradition flourished at the height of the Puebloan civilization in the American Southwest between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries. The modern Hopi kiva mural displayed here is inspired by those earlier pre-European painted rooms. The five by forty-eight foot mural recreates ancient stories of emergence and traditional life. It takes a new look at historical accounts and looks for commonalities with other cultures through the use of symbolsæall from the Hopi point of view. (right: Michael Kabotie with Hopi kiva mural. Photo courtesy Museum of Northern Arizona)

Hopi artists Michael Kabotie (Lomawywesa, village of Songoopavi), and Delbridge Honanie (Coochsiwukioma, village of Songoopavi), who completed the mural in 2001 are internationally recognized artists. These beautiful murals represent the artists' individual and cultural explorations of a sophisticated artistic history. As with similar traditions throughout the world, the painted murals relay the stories, origin cycle, mythic history, and adventures of heroes and clan ancestors in a distinct time of beginnings. These were spiritually empowered compositions that -- through prayer, song, and ritual -- effected change in the ordinary world. Ultimately, they were invocations for rain and the fertility it would nurture.

This mural, entitled Journey of the Human Spirit, offers a broad intellectual terrain upon which to travel. Narratively, it moves from the mythic emergence of the Hopi people from the earth womb, through the ancient migrations, the coming of the Spanish, the coming of the Anglos, the strip mining of Black Mesa, the abuse of fast foods, drugs, and drink by Native people, and finally, the rebirth of Hopi beliefs and traditions through the technology of the information age.

In their own words, the artists interpret their mural:

"Panel A deals with the emergence. All cultures and spiritual institutions have their concepts of birthing and the beginning. The life forms that were here before we arrived here: insects, plants, reptiles, animals, clouds, lightening, stars, etcetera. The kiva is a symbol of the womb -- the Earth womb -- and the ladder represents the birth canal. Also in this panel we introduce the Shadow or Unhealed Side (pow'waka), which enters this world along with us.

In between A and B are migration symbols. Everyone likes to adventure. The archaeological aerial maps are like our footprints...everybody's footprints as we journey and leave our debris behind. Future material for archaeologists to drive themselves nuts over.

In Panel B, we skip many, many, many years to the contact with the Spaniards. Another culture, another ideology, another theology. The religion of Catholicism or of Christianity is one of divine inspiration interpreted by men, and this was how the Unhealed Side took over (temptation). The church was built on top of the sacred shrine, the kivas of Awatovi. That was our first really big historic confrontation with Europeans. We don't talk about it much; we like to sweep our confrontations under the rug.

Panel C is the restoration (to the correct way of living). Women are very important in Hopi social structure, so we have the woman there...there is a baby in her womb, symbolic of rebirthing and rebuilding. This is from the Songoopovi story about how the Bluebird Clan took a pregnant woman from her village and kept her until she gave birth. They baptized the child and the child became the symbol of the revival of the old ways. We also show the mother, the grandmother, and the fruits of Mother Earth, the Squash Maiden. The Squash Maiden and the corn are on a symbolic altar. This is the revival.

In Panel D, it is about the kachinas. They are the bringers of purification and they come to us from the Shadow Side, kokisewa. So the face of this kachina is divided into light and shadow, something we all have in us. Recognizing again our shadow side as well as our light side. The rays of the morning sun radiate from his headdress. Since we were talking about the Europeans earlier, we threw in the Buddha, who is sort of in the same spirit as the kachinas...who bring us purification and help us find the middle place. He is the Buddha Kachina. Underneath there is that dark, blue rainbow representing the earth underneath, and recognizing that there is a lot of energy down there that we don't know about. Here it is represented by the frogs and these little prisms of light, because sometimes when you bring light into the underworld or into the dark, then life begins. Light is brought into the earth by the lightening sometimes, and that is when we hear the frogs.

Panel E represents Koyanisqaatsi, the Hopi word for "a life of grey." This time, humanity is not blinded by the Shadow, but by the Light. We show the cities and the coal mining issue to sustain the light-to bring electricity to the cities. Mined from the bowels of the sacred Earth, so we have shown the ancient petroglyphs, the sacred symbols being mined by the big steam shovels. Underneath we represent the little aquifer that is now being exploited, pumped by the millions of gallons, mixed with the coal dust to be slurried out to the power plants. The rainbows and rain clouds above are still struggling to come through. And then, we show civilization, big cities, and financial centers. Materialism becomes a disconnect in many ways. We symbolize this in obesity, diabetes, wrong diet, amputations, alcoholism, drug abuse, and suicide.

Panel F is the resurgence. Panel A talks about the center being from Sipapuni, from the Grand Canyon -- the west. In C and D, purity comes from the Kachina center -- the east. And the Himalayas-also east. And in F, the purity comes from the south...teachings from the south, the spirit of the serpent. When we have achieved our dysfunction, the serpent will make himself known. At that point, it becomes very Jungian. The brother-sister twins will be taken into the underworld, where the serpent will teach them the responsible truths. So when they come back up, they are prepared to teach us all the responsible truths. The computer is one of the responsible uses of technology. That is what the twins will use to access all the responsible truths of all the different religions: Judaism, Islam, Christianity, I Ching, Hopi, Hindu and Shintoism. The computer is sitting on top of the Pyramid of the Serpent from Teotichuan. And then, there is our favorite pun that we placed inside the computer -- the apple. The apple was the tool of the downfall of the twins in the Old Testament -- Adam and Eve -- and in our story the Apple computer will restore them to the truth."


Selected images of mural






(above photos courtesy Museum of Northern Arizona)


Editor's note: The modern Hopi kiva mural is a permanent installation in the Museum of Northern Arizona's Kiva Gallery. The above text was compiled from several Museum of Northern Arizona staff sources.

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