Chip Thomas Culturunners

Chip Thomas

Artist Physician and Founder of The Painted Desert Project

Chip Thomas, aka “jetsonorama” is a photographer, public artist, activist and physician who has been working on the Navajo Nation since 1987. Chip grew up in North Carolina, and first moved to the Diné Nation in 1981 to repay a National Health Service Corps scholarship by volunteering his skills in a community with limited health care. By the time he’d made good on his four-year obligation, he had fallen in love with both the people and the landscape. Today, his public-art installations - known as the Painted Desert Project – are bolstering the community through a constellation of murals across the Navajo Nation painted by artists from all over the rez + the world. These murals aim to reflect love and appreciation of the rich history shared by the Navajo people back to Navajo people. Chip still practices family medicine four days a week at the Inscription House Health Center, a clinic outside the village of Shonto.



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"On May 6th 2020 when I put up the 1st version of this PSA, the Navajo Nation had the 3rd highest incidence of coronavirus cases per 100,000 behind New York and New Jersey. The poster is designed to inform the community of the public-health strategy to provide optimal health during this time and to support the work of Navajo Hopi Solidarity and Kinlani/Flagstaff Mutual Aid."

By @jetsonorama in collaboration with @shi.buddy, who provided the poster’s text, and grass dancer @eye_rattle_ry , who is pictured on the poster and who collaborated on the photograph’s production.

"I’d suggest billboards represent a form of oppression in contested spaces. For example, in 1989 the Pepsi corporation erected a billboard which read “Welcome to Pepsi Country" along Highway 89 near Moenkopi Wash outside Tuba City directed at motorists traveling from Flagstaff and Phoenix to Page and points further north. The billboard depicted cold, refreshing cans of soft drinks to relieve the motorists thirst traversing the hot, barren but beautiful Painted Desert. However, the ad neglected to recognize that the corn syrup laden drinks depicted appear in a region of the country with one of the highest rates of adult onset diabetes. Art was used to transform our idea of where oppression takes place."

By @jetsonorama

Chip Thomas working at Grey Mountain. “It’s important people not necessarily embrace but at least acknowledge this thing has its own life and life span, and there’s a period in which it is beautiful. But then it starts to age, and we are frequently repulsed by that because it’s not as appealing and engaging — but that’s what happens with people, too. Everyone says this is a youth-oriented culture, and we don’t appreciate elders. There is that life lesson in this practice in doing an ephemeral art practice.”

Photo by Dawn Kish

Chip Thomas artwork for 'American Domain' (Photo of Dan Budnik from 1983 in the Navajo Nation). “…Under capitalism, land is measured, marked, bounded, guarded, and owned; it is a commodity, a site of production, and oftentimes, capitalism’s dumping ground. Though land ownership is not an inherently American phenomenon, the United States was founded on a land grab and its identity has been consistently wrapped up with the economics of territory.” Erin Elder, curator of American Domain, the inaugural exhibition at the Museum of Capitalism, Oakland, California, June, 2017.

Photo by Chip Thomas

The mural features a black-and-white photograph of Kee Roy John, a uranium miner on the Navajo Nation who died of a uranium-related cancer. Taken during the 1960s, the picture shows him standing in a cramped underground space, between a ladder and a large piece of mining equipment. Thomas treats former uranium miners as part of his medical practice, so he's seen the effects of uranium exposure up close. “This is the first time I’ve really thought of doing an ad. I hope people who see it will write letters to Congress about cleaning up old mines and contaminated water and land.”

Mural Ad for "Hope + Trauma in a Poisoned Land” at Coconino Center for the Arts, Flagstaff. Original photograph belongs to Cyndy Begaye, the miner's daughter. Photo by Chip Thomas.

Rose Hurley and her great Grandson, Edzavier. Community members join the artist in placing murals on water tanks, trading posts, abandoned buildings or any sort of dilapidated edifice between Gray Mountain and Bitter Springs on Highway 89 or Red Lake and Kayenta on Highway 160. Subject matter features aspects of Navajo life, mystical images and social issues that plague the tribe.

Photo by Chip Thomas

Stephanie in Cow Springs.

Photo by Ben Knight

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