Sonnet of Lament: Chip Thomas and Esther Belin | Heard Museum
ADVANCING AMERICAN INDIAN ART

handwritten poem over scene of young Native man standing in the southwestern desert with pinnacle formation in distance and large panel with closeup of half a face next to him

Sonnet of Lament: Chip Thomas and Esther Belin

This collaborative work between Chip Thomas and Esther Belin recounts the effects that the COVID-19 global health crisis has had on Indigenous communities and the ways in which it has illuminated the status and lived reality that Indigenous peoples face.

The work itself is arresting in its visuality and layered in its composition. An unidentified man in the foreground stands, head tilted back while taking a sip of a beverage. An elder’s face stares out with a piercing gaze – demanding the viewer to take note of the words written by Belin. The poem brings to mind thoughts or notions about conflict or war – which is intentional. Belin believes that there has been a sustained conflict upon Indigenous communities by the United States Government, only further illuminated and amplified by the realities the Covid-19 pandemic has created.

The impact that the coronavirus pandemic has had on Indigenous peoples, and specifically on the Diné Nation where Belin is from and Thomas lives and works, has been tremendous, revealing the precarious nature of the healthcare system and other essential infrastructures within the community. “It took a global pandemic for non-Indians to experience a comparable state of unrest that tribal people have had to adapt to in order to survive,” shared Belin. “The poem is meant to draw out the profound emotions of grief and sorrow, to ignite a visceral somatic experience.”


Chip Thomas and Esther Belin. American, b. 1957, and Diné, b. 1968. Sonnet of Lament. Site-specific paper mural, 2020. Photo by Craig Smith, Heard Museum