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“Fear of a Red Planet: Relocation and Removal 2000”
Steven Yazzie, Navajo/Laguna Pueblo, b. 1970

“Fear of a Red Planet” is a visual story interpreted by painter Steven Yazzie, Navajo/Laguna Pueblo, that speaks to the chaos, noise and catastrophic impact of the forced removal of Arizona’s Indian people,a dn theongoing ramifications of the historial period. Focusing on the stories of the Navajo, Yaqui and Colorado River tribes, the mural is the signature piece in the Ullman Learning Center, a gallery created to provide understanding of the past, present and future of the state’s first people.

Comprised of individual panels that work as one continuous image, the mural depicts the trauma, incarceration and forced removal of Arizona’s Native people in the mid- to late 1800s, and complements the Center’s exhibit We Are! Arizona’s First People.

East Wall

  1. Navajo Relocation. Kit Carson is shown as a pawn on a chessboard, implying universal forces directing human drama and experience. The central figure with three arms references manifest destiny, westward expansion and a triad of contemporary American Indian religious beliefs: traditional religion, the Native American Church and Christianity. An eagle hovers above the forces of change with eye sewn shut, consuming its own tail and feet. This action suggests a catastrophic period in this country’s history—as the country expands, it swallows resources, lifeways and people.

  1. Uprooting (first panel). This U.S. Cavalry advances, trampling the cultures and sacred remains of the people. This section of the mural refers to the Navajo experience of relocation, as fields are burned and livestock destroyed (1862-1868). The Long Walk and subsequent imprisonment in Bosque Redondo is referenced by figures poised o the land, depicting great personal suffering as fields, peach orchards and sheep are destroyed. The central figures represent the Pieta. Separation and loss are common during this period. A target hovers above the human drama, signifying the military objective. Above all is a rainbow, a symbol of protection.

  1. Uprooting (second panel). Release from Bosque Redondo is shown as the end of the rainbow. This is the breaking free from shackles and imprisonment, as the sheep are restored to the land. Sheep symbolize life to the Navajo. The levitating sheep and corn signify rebirth and traditions. Illuminated in this section is the depiction of a contemporary biracial family—a personal reference to Yazzie’s heritage. The child is wearing a shirt indicating he attends a school named for the military figure, Kit Carson, associated with the massacre. He is unaware of its significance. The irony of this reality echoes the continuing impact of relocation and loss of cultural identity.
 
  • Yaqui—The Flower World. Flowers represent the flower world that is the sea ania in the Yaqui language, the world beneath the dawn. First depicted is a modern Yaqui family. The woman clings to tradition, represented by the flower held in her hand, as the young child assumes the trappings of modern street culture. Christ on the cross floats behind the couple, signifying the blending of beliefs. A traditional Yaqui deer dancer moves in and out of space in rhythmic dance. Juan Banderas, a Yaqui revolutionary and a prominent figure in the resistance against he Spanish in the 1800s, is depicted holding three rifles. Red babies tumbling forward depict an image of death. The next panel depicts a rancher with one arm holding a rose and encircling a Yaqui woman, which symbolizes the breeding out. A landscape of Jesuit Missions can be seen in the background. Exiting the mural to the right, is a reference to the 200-year conflict with the Yaqui starting with the Conquistadors through the Spanish Revolution.

 

North Wall

  1. The Boarding School Period. Native American children are depicted wearing dunce caps, which illustrates their perceived levels of intelligence by the U. S. government. White, transparent and still, they await their fate. The process of assignment to the school is depicted as the red forms move naked through the doorway, leaving behind all that is familiar. Once inside the door of the school, we see scissors hovering above the figures as the students’ hair was cut. They were bathed (cleansed of traditions), and they were taught to assume the submissive posture of prayer. Above all, a pink-faced god of progress holds a clock, symbolic of linear time and a new reality. Children are seen receiving new names and being forced to participate in a regimen of military-style indoctrinations. The chalkboard signals the loss of language and the new ways of communicating. The students are eventually transformed as faceless generic figures flying toward a technological world of enslavement, from mass media to fast food.
 

South Wall

  1. Colorado River. The landscape of the lower Colorado River is depicted by cactus and birds. A shadowy human form stands against a yellow ground. The figure represents every man, the figure of progress struggling to breath in an environment that has been altered in the name of progress. To the right, falling mesquite branches (mesquite as a symbol of life) overlay the landscape. A blue ribbon symbolizing the Colorado River moves across two panels. The reference to water and lifeways is presented from the Glen Canyon dam to Mexico, which terminates in the visual device of a common faucet representing water flow restrictions under the direction of the U.S. Corps of Engineers. This interference of natural resources has severely impacted the ecology of the entire lower Colorado River. Endangered fish are shown swimming upside down. Gaming is depicted by colorful references to the slot machines in the upper-right portion of the panel, as a way of addressing the controversial subject of Indian gaming. It asks the question, “Is this progress…who wins?”

 

 

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