Art professor merges dreams, ideas in her work

Whether subtle and serious or bursting with color and whimsy, Melanie Yazzie’s art reveals self discoveries, loves, and struggles.

While Yazzie’s art is rooted in the culture of her Diné (Navajo) background and memories of a childhood spent on a reservation in Arizona, it also incorporates elements of her travels, nature, and personal health issues that add texture and depth to her work. Her goal is to create accessible art that moves people beyond the initial beauty of the prints and ceramics and into the story behind the pieces.

“My artwork is a contemporary take on my personal journeys,” said Yazzie, associate professor of art and art history. “And it comes from spending time with people, hearing their stories, and getting to know the landscape of a place.”

Yazzie has shown her art in national and international exhibitions, and her work is in collections both locally and abroad. This past spring, she participated in an exhibition at the Boettcher Memorial Center in Denver showing a new body of work inspired by the plants in the center’s gardens. Earlier this summer she was invited to the Venice Printmaking Studio in Italy. The images and colors of Venice and its canals are reflected in these prints (pictured above). In September, Yazzie will participate in the 14th Icheon International Sculpture Symposium in Korea.

“When I travel,” she said, “I go to the coffee shops and cafes where the locals go and try to get to know them and what they’re about to make that connection with my art.”

What Yazzie hopes students learn from her is to honor their own traditions and personal history and to build a body of work that reveals their own stories.

“My art is a collection of motifs or symbols from the places I’ve been,” she said, “as well as from dreams and ideas merged together into one story. It’s not what people consider traditional Navajo artwork.”