The Arizona Museum, Tucson is currently displaying the works of internationally acclaimed Dinè (Navajo) artist Shonto Begay. The exhibition is given the title of ‘Shonto’s Words’. The exhibition has been arranged by Mark Sublette, Medicine Man Gallery. There are eleven paintings available for display, and each painting is complemented by Shonto’s poetry. These paintings have been selected from the work Begay has done in the last two and a half decade. Shonto Begay’s ‘Abandoned and Reclaimed’ is one of the paintings that have been displayed in the exhibit. The artist has used acrylic on canvas. The painting depicts a deserted place that has survived the cruel winters, and the changing colors of skies and melting ice indicate the arrival of spring that shows reclamation. A vivid imagery has been used by Begay, with intense color scheme.
Begay a graduate from the Institute of American Indian Art (IAIA) started his career as a professional painter in 1983. Unlike, most of the graduates from IAIA, his work denounces the Pop style, which is still dominant until today. Navajo history, socio-politics and autobiography are the major subjects that Begay emphasize on. however. his fondness for nature and people must not be underrated. Some critics refer his style to be similar to Social Realism. While comparing Begay’s work with pop artists, there are several dissimilarities within the two art forms. Pop culture began in the middle of twentieth century and flourished rapidly all over the globe. Begay’s contemporary Navajo artists follow pop art quiet strictly. While Begay is inclined towards historical and metaphysical themes, pop art embraces the modern culture. It does not put any questions on fate of material values rather it appreciates, what world has become. Pop artists use flat imagery like the ones in comic or newspapers. The color scheme usually comprises of bright colors. On the other hand looking at the portfolio of Shonto Begay, one can find clear reaction against the popular culture. Meanwhile, some of the art critics in the recent years have claimed that painting is dead, considering the expansion of information technology in relation with multimedia. Begay still holds to the traditional acrylic paints and brush to make his paintings. Instead of following the modern culture, Begay has his own way of demonstrating his thoughts. His work his high on emotional scale, and one can sense his belongingness to his American Indian origin. Therefore his love for nature is directly associated with background that he belongs to, and it is quiet visible in his painting of an American landscape named ‘Late Sun Song’. He manipulates Indian culture in a sophisticated manner and portrays the richness of the Indian tribes. His work is also against the domination of white man. Alongside painting, Begay is magician with words. He uses poetry to define his work and relate it to the people who are unable to grasp his thoughts visually. Begay’s work may have the traditional touch, but his work is thought provoking, and this the reason why he still stands tall without being consumed by consumer based culture or by pop art.