J (0:11) My name is Jaque Fragua. I’m 32 years old. From New Mexico, by way of the Pueblo tribe of Jemez and Pueblo of San Felipe. Affiliated with the tribes of Hopi and Zia Pueblo and there’s other things I’m affiliated with tribally.
R (1:02) Where did you grow up?
J (1:04) I grew up in Jemez. So that culture informs a lot of my current views
R (1:15) How so?
J (1:17) Well, it’s my foundation. Everything that I know about life from an early age has been influenced by the traditional indigenous culture of the tribe as well as the evolution of the traditional Pueblo culture. Which you might relate to the term “colonization”, right? And all of the things that we’ve gone through so there’s things that have become traditional that aren’t really traditional.
R (1:58) What do you think about that?
J (2:01) The way I learned about it is you just have to get perspective. Things like abuse, substance abuse, domestic violence. I think a lot of things like that have become traditional and perpetuated in a way that enables people to validate colonization and capitalism and things that keep this whole thing afloat.
R (2:58) What kind of art do you make?
J (3:01) I make… I think a lot of people would call it resistance art because it has social awareness to it or there’s political commentary. Some of it is humorous, I like to use a lot of dry humor. Essentially using my canvas or surface or medium as a mirror. As a reflection of myself, everything that surrounds me. What’s going on in current time. Some of it is obviously influenced by the past too so wrapping it all up in one sort of capsule. A lot of that gets labeled or thrown under the resistance art category or social art. Or even just because I am Native American it’s labeled as Native American art. I denounce labels, especially those ones. If it’s resistance art, it’s resistance to what I’ve inherited as an indigenous person. Some of it is tradition that has been here, has been kept going for ages but then there’s some traditions that are more new and I think those are the things that I’m resisting the most. I grew up as as close as any lay person in the Pueblo community could come to tradition. So I know a lot about my culture, a lot about my family and where we come from. The stories of how we came to be and our origins. And those stories, our histories, our legends, our narratives *pause* those are things that really interest me the most. I think because it’s a mystery…even the part of translating the language or ideas into another language that doesn’t honor the complete vision of the original language. It’s interesting and it’s a mystery. I like finding the differences and the interpretations and the perspectives and relating that to my current present moment.
R (6:48) What makes you choose one medium over another?
J (6:58) I think part of it is access..accessibility. I think that’s why I started with spray paint, painting in places, in the street was just accessible. I couldn’t afford to go back to art school anymore so my canvas changed. Even before art school that was already my canvas. Being able to paint on walls freely or surfaces freely without having to pay for it. Which is kind of wild now to think about. Because the thing that was so free, you now have to pay to do today. I go to these art festivals around the world…street art festivals, whatever you want to call them. But real estate brokers are working with artist managers so that artists can have access to paint on these walls that are in high profile spaces and urban areas. And they have to rent them out for a day or a week, however long. It’s essentially a marketing or branding. It’s an advertisement for someone’s own life force really. To me it’s crazy that the accessibility has changed so much from something that is free and raw and even that was co opted. So the accessibility to me now is more…*pauses* just expression in general. I think native people have been oppressed for so long and we had our tongues cut out and our languages taken from us. I think now more than ever it’s important to have a voice. And people who are not Native, not Indigenous don’t understand how meaningful that is. And when you’re taught or conditioned to shut your mouth for your whole life all the way up until you’re an adult and you learn that you can raise your voice, and utilize your voice to create a sense of empowerment. It’s really a magical thing so anything that I can use to convey the expression in my art or to use my voice whether it’s painting on canvas, painting on walls, making music, or poetry. As long as that that voice stays afloat and keeps going, I think that’s important. Maybe it doesn’t matter to a lot of people right now but I think maybe in the future when I’m gone and when a lot of these other special people are gone the voices will be heard as something that existed at a time when they weren’t supposed to exist. They were supposed to be gone already but it’ll become louder in the end. That’s what I think about mediums.
R (11:48) You spoke about accessibility, what were some of your first introductions to art and doing what you do now?
J (11:58) Art has always been around me in Native culture. I always tell folks it’s inherent in the culture. You see folks from museums, institutions, and galleries. You see a lot of ancestral accoutrement. They call them artifacts or relics. I call them maybe decommissioned spiritual objects.
R (12:54) Why so?
J (13:03) Because they are not being used they way they were originally and intentionally made for. And i feel like there is a whole process to all of that in our culture. In a way that the western world doesn’t understand, that there is a life force to everything. If it’s time for something to not have that power then it can be taken away…it can be taken away remotely. There are different rituals and ceremonies for that type of process. Getting back to your question about accessibility and how i make the art i do now. So i’ve always been around it like i said it’s apart of the culture. I learned how to make things with my hands from a very early age for ceremonial use and purpose. I never saw that as art and I didn’t really understand what art was or the definition of it until I was in high school.
R(14:36) What about high school changed that?
J(14:39) Well I took a high school art class and learned about art history. And how art started as cave paintings in ancient places on this earth and evolved into art that was being commissioned for religious purposes. Speaking as a human being, I think art has always had a connection to the spiritual and the very essence of what makes us who we are. And honoring the real art that exists in the natural world. So making art i think has always been humans way of honoring our earth. Our mother earth, our creator and other things that exist in the natural world. It is to make art that reflects what we see. Not just what we see but our connection to it. That can be sculptures that represent a character in an origin story or emergence story. So it’s always had this connection to the spiritual. Some people called it Pagan art, Indigenous art and that kind of thing. But the Catholic church started becoming super powerful and you know western/classical art became what it is. I think ever since that point the art itself has had this uphill battle. Because for one I think people would have to spend time maybe making things that didn’t honor the natural world and did not honor what true art is, which is nature. They’re honoring human like God beings with pale skin.
R:(18:05) I know you just mentioned an uphill battle, would you describe that for your experience in art school?
J(18:08 ) Yeah I would say there is a parallel there. I guess my point is it’s coming from a source that’s different than the Western source and the Western view of the art. I wanted to create but i wanted nothing to do with that side of it. Ever. It’s like when you taste something fucking toxic or like someone dropped some acid in your coffee or water. For me, i just had an adverse, reaction to it. That’s sort of what art school was for me *laughs*. I tell people it taught me what not to do and what route not to take. Like obviously not selling out and putting myself in a position where I have to play a role or play a character in order to be successful as a creative person. And even that success is something I never really wanted to define. Right? I definitely have goals and if I achieve those goals or don’t achieve them… To me the success was going on that Journey. It’s all about the process. Which is a very artsy thing to say. But yeah success itself is something I think that destroys people’s vision and their passion and their true love for what they were put on earth to do.
R(20:35) What art school did you go to?
J(20:37) I went to the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, NM.
R(20:45) How long did you go there.
J(20:48) I went there for two years from 2005-2006.I was supposed to go back in 2007 but I couldn’t afford it anymore. So I ended up trying to make art on my own.
R(21:02) Is that what you’ve been doing ever since?
J(21:09) mmm hmm, yea.
R(21:18) if you were to create a definition of art how would you define it?
J(21:21) i think i’ve laid out the foundation for it in the conversation thus far. To me art is a representation of our life. Of our existence. That’s what art is.
R(21:46) I see. So why do you make art knowing the western construct of things?
J(21:50) Well like I was saying earlier, I make art to honor our existence, my existence. You know… my people and their existence. For so long our people haven’t had the opportunity To be able to express ourselves in a way that honors our true existence. It’s always been in a roll right? To perpetuate the things that keep us oppressed and in a negative feedback loop that benefits others and never us. I think that’s what art has been created to do on the verso. Art can be used as a weapon too. You have Native people making commercial art for tourists to take home with them and that’s what represents who we are completely. That’s their view of us. That’s a weapon. It’s a way of dehumanizing people and a way of reducing a person’s existence to someone who’s selling shit on the side of the road trying to make ends meet because they have no opportunity or any other ways to make money and support themselves. Like we’ve been defeated or whatever and to perpetuate that, that’s a tactic right? You can see it that way, as like a militant thinker but to me it’s just so obvious and clear. It’s crazy for me to think that people are okay with just going to one of those roadside shops and buying a headdress or bow and arrow toy. They believe in something that doesn’t even exist it’s like a made up character. Like a Mickey Mouse invention, some Walt Disney shit. And that’s perpetuated as art. That’s what art is. There is a process to make that imagery happen and it’s like a magic trick. For me, I want to do the opposite of it. I want to reveal the magic behind the scenes. Like i always think of Houdini, like he’s just the master of illusion right? I want to be the master of non-illusion. To reveal our true reality. Not even a fucking master, man… just someone to shine the light. So, that’s why I make art.
R(26:41) What purpose do you think your artwork serves?
J(26:43) Well i’ve been making art for a long time and like I was telling you i didn’t really understand what it was or what people thought it was or think it is now. I’ve been making art in that sense for a long time. Thats 10+ years and i’m doing it in a way that’s all on my own. For my own benefit personally so it’s not like im banging my head against the wall I’m making something out of these thoughts that I have. Its therapy for a lot of people and I see it that way for myself.
R(27:55) Do you think your art benefits the community as well?
J(27:59) In an altruistic way I like to say that I’m always going to make art that speaks to our people. It helps us understand each other because some of us don’t speak the same language but we’re still the same people. I feel like art is that universal language that a lot of us understand what we might not be able to understand in words, but its what everybody’s thinking. I’ve wanted to make art like that ever since I went to college. like I’m saying I learned what not to do *laughs*. I wanted to make art that people weren’t making at the time. Now it’s sort of a thing, it’s a trend. Yeah this is art that I was interested in making then. Even my graff stuff was anti graff, it was anti system. Anti anything that this Western world is, it was just anti that. Like me physically going to places where I’m not supposed to be. On a billboard, or trespassing in a building. Like it’s a manipulation of those spaces itself to me is resistance. It’s the literal recording of my existence in those spaces. If it wasn’t going to be anyone else I was going to be me. I’m going to do it, I don’t give a fuck what do I have to lose? That makes me feel empowered and gives me strength. That gives me the feeling that I do have freedom and I can stand up against this whole collapsible world.
R(31:14) How do you think your art is viewed by others?
J(31:17) I think it’s definitely misunderstood.
R(31:25) Why so?
J(31:30) Well there’s a small percentile of folks that I have come to know over time since I’ve been making work that I’ve engaged with and we’ve had a conversation that keeps going and develops friendships and relationships. People that I never would have thought I would cross paths with. They understand. Then there is this whole other circle of people that are trying to do the same thing and perhaps they’re reaching more people or there art is just more digestible for the mass then my art is. My vocabulary is a little more expansive than those other artists. I come from an indigenous foundation but I also understand what western art is too. I studied it for a while when I was in school. I feel like I can break and bend rules. I know what works and doesn’t. I know craft from content, form and design and the relationship of all these fundamentals. Even just the hands on application of materials because I’ve worked in it for so long. I love that very tactile part of art too. My grandfathers were construction workers and they built a lot of Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Ever since I was a teen I worked in construction so building and making something tangible and manifesting something out of nothing is something that I’m really attached to. I love the process and the attention and focus these things take. Putting all of your spirit and energy into the acts that make these things come alive that’s what separates my work from a lot of other people in my personal opinion. Not to say it doesn’t take energy or skill to do what other artist do but I have experience and I’ve been doing this for a long fucking time. It’s in my blood, so how can I deny that right.
R(36:06) Do you think your art will be interpreted different once you’re gone?
J(36:10) Yeah I think about that quite a bit, I try to be more conscious and aware. When I was younger I didn’t really care but now that I’m older and I’m still doing the same shit in terms of career I’m a little more conscious of what kind of legacy…impression im going to have. I don’t want my shit to be in some archive or just sitting somewhere, where no one is ever going to see it. I want people to be able to engage with it. That’s always what happens to our peoples art… and life, really. Even our bones have been taken by anthropologist and archaeologist and put into a fucking vault. This is because what we believe is antithetical to what the Western world is trying to do. Consuming and destroying this Earth for lack of a more politically correct way to say that. That’s essentially what I believe is happening. Our people have fought through thick and thin to live, to honor the life we have and how precious it is. To know that it’s a very temporal special gift that happens. 100 years isn’t even a long time even if you make it that long. Just think about 30…40 years. That isn’t a long time at all. I think about that and i want the work that I create to be omnipresent in a way to raise our voice as Indigenous people. Not necessarily to let other people know. I think that’s a side effect of the intention of letting the earth know and the universe know that we are here and that we are continuing to be here. And we are continuing to honor life by holding things sacred that need to be held in that way. The rest of the world has converted to this other way of belief and during that conversion there has been a lot of violence, oppression, destruction, and it’s happening right now as we speak. So i want my work to be able to resonate and connect with where I believe we come from. It’s this earth. We are all made of it and a part of it. We are intrinsically connected to the ground that we walk on, the air that we breath and the water that we drink. Art helps me contribute to that belief, this way of thinking and way of existence. I think it’s important and it’s something that i’m able to contribute to. It’s the fight that i want to participate in right now, maybe there’s more important things to do…more money to make, more whatever to become successful. I’m not interested in that, i’ve lived in a way that’s taught me what real value is and a lot of things can be bought and money has a way of buying authority but its not real power. Real power is being able to think for yourself and have freedom, true freedom. And through art that’s how i feel like it happens, at least for me. But ive also seen how art has affected my family, community, and the people i care about in a positive way. I don’t know what you want to call that…love? But i think that’s what it is. Its that idea of peace, balance, and restoration to a way of being that is in harmony with our natural place.
R(43:29) Do you think there is any work of art that encapsulates your experience as an artist?
J(43:35) That’s difficult to say. I think the work that best encapsulates what I do has been a neon. There is a piece that has a Thunderbird and says “sold out”. It’s a work that stands out to me. Not only because of the materials used and the way it’s presented, it’s the scale of it and the colors. The fabrication of that piece and the content as well. The historical references and the angle at which I’m speaking from in that piece is something that I cherish when I look at it. Not just when i’m looking at but when I’m with it. There is something about neon. There is a frequency that operates that you can feel. You can almost smell the glass heating up. There is this very tactile feeling with that piece, I love the way that it feels.
R(45:50) Sold out, what does that mean to you?
J(45:54) Going back to a lot of what i’ve already said, its talks about the co-opting of the spirit of art and using it as a way to detract or access power. Thats what its about. There is a whole story to it. But i wont get into it, it’s kind of long winded.
R(46:49) What do you think the role of artists are within Native communities?
J(46:53) We are artists. It’s what native people do. We are artists, engineers, scientists, inventors. I feel like art is an act that is creative and creativity brings everything, it brings life solutions to problems. It brings diplomacy, it brings everything really. I feel that art is in everything that we do. Creativity, all of that in the western way has been used against us.
R(48:10) I know you said you travel a lot how does being home and having that temporal connection to the land influence what you create?
J(48:16) Well the land is everything that we are. It’s where we come from. It’s in our origin and creation stories it’s our emergence point. We are made of earth and go back to the earth physically when we are done. It’s a source of life, my culture. So when i go home there is a visceral connection there that is also an intuitive connection that gets charged up. I feel peace, strength and connected. It’s such a reference point for a lot of what i do and alot of what i make. Sometimes even in the materials. It’s everything that is me and i am everything that it is. It’s a special relationship you can’t’ have with anything else. A lot of people don’t have that. It’s a privilege but it’s also a privilege we fight for continuously. If we don’t have our land then who are we? We lose all our medicine, customs, traditions, we lose our water, and we lose our rights to the most essential things to stay alive. So i value the land in a heavy way. When i go back home that’s how i feel. When i’m not there i know i get depressed… It makes me want to go back and reconnect. Also to take back what i’ve learned and experienced from the outside. Hopefully the things that i’ve earned can be of use to the community, land, and that space.
R(52:00) How has working with people from other Indigenous tribes influence what you do?
J(52:07) It affirms the ideas and ubiquitous ways we as Indigenous people live in the natural world. When you can reinforce these ideas which are really just healthy ways of being or what people nowadays call “sustainable living” or “environmentally friendly actions” then there is empowerment through that. I’ve learned about the differences in how folks from different communities relate to their land, in comparison to myself. I come from the desert so my relationship to water is different compared to a lot of places where water is abundant.
R(53:35) Do you consider yourself an activist?
J(53:56) I don’t. I don’t identify with a lot of folks who are labeled as that or who label themselves that way. I’m someone who cares about my community, my people and our way of living. Like i said earlier it’s in tune with the natural world, it’s a sustainable way of existence. So that’s what i care about. To me it feels healthy if i’m being an advocate for Native people because I want clean air, water, food. If i get labeled an activist…*shrugs*
R(55:00) So what exactly do you advocate for?
J(55:08) Well i do a lot of things. I work on Social justice and climate justice campaigns by helping people who not only understand the issues ur communities face against corporate or political interest. I also help to create art that sends messages of the truth about what we’re going through. Art can be used in a powerful way in that method. And because i care about it, everything falls under a category right? If i’m making art that relates to Standing Rock for instance its “activist art”. I don’t think that makes any sense really. I’m just a person who really wants peace and justice…Rights for our people and for those rights to be honored. And because of that it makes you an enemy of the state. It makes you someone who’s a criminal or a terrorist. All because your interests aren’t in money but in the earth, the people ,women, children, our brothers, sisters, and elders. All the things that can’t defend themselves. I have the ability to do so and there are people that want to but maybe can’t speak anymore or don’t speak the language, speak english…maybe they had diabetes and had to have their legs or hands amputated. Maybe they were in a war before and they cant mark art that speaks the way that someone with the access to the resources can. My resources, it’s just me. It’s my spirit, it’s my well. It’s where i pull from. So unlike a lot of other artists who have something to lose, like a reputation or something like that…. They tailor to a certain crowd or master, I don’t have that.
R(58:42) So where do you want to take your work in the future?
J(58:50) I just want to do bigger and better things. Create more impact and contribute to the things that I care about.
R(59:10) Is there anything else that you care to share or would like for me to know?
J(59:17) Like i said earlier our people have been absent from the conversation for so long
when we were the conversation. This was it. That’s how things went and now we have the opportunity to get back into the conversation. To speak our truth and speak about how we think things should go. It really is time for our leaders to stand up and make decisions and move forward and you can only do that if you’re present. So you have to show up in more than one way. Be consistent don’t just give up or sell out right away because it’s cool to be a hat wearing turquoise flossing native that perpetuates this romanticism. That doesn’t mean shit. That’s the projection that people have been giving us for such a long time. To keep us docile, we don’t need to be docile now we need to stand the fuck up. And however you do that, thats on you… that’s your legacy. This is what i think is important because that’s how we used to be and always were. We’ve been through a lot, we’ve been through hell. We’re not even supposed to fucking be here but we’re here so whatever you take from that go and do something.