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Museum to showcase America's first artists

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TUCSON, Ariz. -- Every February for the past 12 years, the Arizona State
Museum has showcased the art of America's first artists in an
ever-increasingly popular art fair. The Southwest Indian Art Fair is Feb.
25 and 26 this year and boasts more than 200 Native artists showing and
selling their wares.

Cultural authenticity is a standard of quality well-known to craftspeople.
In the search for roots, it is no surprise that deep traditions and high
standards of craftsmanship are being perpetuated among the nation's
earliest artists and craftspeople. The Southwest Indian Art Fair, held at
Arizona State Museum on the University of Arizona campus, is a leading
example in the practice of these longstanding traditions.

Among the 170 Southwest Native artists assembled to compete for coveted
positions in the fair, the presence of the artist's hand is frequently, and
ironically, the lesser part of the object. American Indian crafts are
better defined by the larger issues of cultural content. Yet, as evidenced
in the eye-catching award winners, attracting $12,000 in
community-sponsored awards, it is ultimately the artist's hands that lend
competitive quality to the work. This is one of the rich complexities of
contemporary Native craft -- that neither culture nor artist is compromised
in the final balance of content and craft.

It has been observed that humanity is "more than one man deep," that each
generation rises up by standing upon the shoulders of previous ones. As we
make our way through the 21st century, American Indian crafts lead in this
tradition.

FEATURED ARTIST CAROL CHIAGO LUJAN

This year's featured artist at the Southwest Indian Art Fair is Carol
Chiago Lujan.

Lujan is an educator on many levels.

She is a clay artist, a professor at Arizona State University, and has
served as adviser to influential politicians in Washington, D.C. In all
arenas, her work emphasizes and reflects the beauty, strength and endurance
of Native people.

An enrolled member of the Navajo Nation, Lujan comes from a long line of
rug weavers from the Big Water clan and has lived most of her life in
Arizona and New Mexico. In 1997, she began to work seriously with clay
after enrolling in a traditional Indian pottery class at the Institute of
American Indian Art in Santa Fe, N.M. Since that time she has developed a
passion for working with clay and enjoys exploring the many aspects of the
medium. "The ability to mold clay to almost any shape provides endless
challenges and is intriguing to me as a Native woman artist."

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Having grown up surrounded with beautiful Navajo rugs created by her
grandmother and other women in her family, one would think that she would
follow in the weaving tradition. "I have not worked with textiles, but that
is not to say that I will not do so at some point in the future," she
explained. "It seemed that my creative energies were more directed to
working with clay.

"Ever since I can remember, I have always enjoyed the feel and smell of
clay. The mixture of water and clay and its soft and smooth, cool texture
provides me with the perfect medium for my creative expression." But it
wasn't until after she raised her three children and completed her
education that she finally had time to focus her creative spirit on clay.

Lujan's work is primarily figurative sculpture. She creates numerous
varieties of masks inspired by the Yei-bi-chai or Nightway ceremonies. Her
clay figurines of "mud people" portray interaction in both traditional and
contemporary society settings -- work, thought and play. "I think art is
educational for the creator as well as the observer," she explained. "I
would like to think that my work reflects the beauty, compassion, strength,
and the continuity of Native people, but viewers interpret art in many
different ways. That's what makes it so compelling and exciting.

"I myself learn from the pieces I create. As I begin working on a piece, I
usually have a general idea of what the end result will be; but there is
inspiration that occurs while I am actively working on a piece. Many times
the clay takes on a life of its own and determines what it will be and how
it will look."

Holding a doctorate from the University of New Mexico, Lujan was
instrumental in developing the American Indian Studies program at Arizona
State University in Tempe and served as its first director for six years.
She recently stepped down as director and is currently an associate
professor of American Indian studies at ASU.

"Our role in American Indian studies is to dispel negative and destructive
images. AIS is faced with a number of challenges in terms of our teaching,
our research and our service. We're committed here at Arizona State
University to assisting Native nations in their endeavors to protect their
sovereignty, their land base, their religious rights, their lifestyles. We
also seek ways to support them in building self-sufficient nations, to
decolonize, and to establish culturally appropriate institutions."

Lujan has a rich and diverse career that includes serving in 1998 -- '99 as
special assistant to Kevin Gover, assistant secretary of Indian affairs in
the Deptartment of the Interior in Washington, D.C. Her primary assignment
was to advise the assistant secretary on issues concerning the BIA's
education system.

"I learned an extensive amount about the challenges and successes of
schools and programs funded by the BIA. I always told my students that if
you're born Native, you're born into politics. It's a political reality
that the general American population has minimal knowledge about indigenous
nations, and the knowledge they do possess is very distorted and
inaccurate. They don't know that we, as American Indian nations, have rich
cultures and histories, a distinctive land base and our own governments. We
also have treaties and a special trust relationship with the federal
government that is supported by the Supreme Court and various legislative
acts that separate us from other Americans."

In 1999, Lujan participated in Hillary Clinton's visit to Acoma Sky City
Elementary School in Acoma Pubelo, N.M., which was just one of many stops
for the first lady on her cross-country tour to advocate for the
preservation of historical sites.