“Art is a language, and it ought to communicate to the largest number of people possible,” artist Amanny Ahmad said in a recent interview. It is that democratic view on art and its capacity to powerfully express ideas, experiences and feelings that words don't quite manage to sum up that informs many who choose to do their creative work in the public sphere. Artist and activist Lynnette Haozous carries similar ethics with her as she approaches the many blank walls that she has covered with her vibrant mural work.
“I am really interested in art that is about social change,” Haozous said over the phone from Santa Fe, where she had just begun a three-month residency at the Santa Fe Art Institute during which time she will produce work on the theme of “truth and reconciliation.” “My whole art philosophy is using art as a weapon, to bring social justice to Indigenous communities especially. I use my art as a weapon and as activism.”
Combining her two passions for social justice and creative expression may seem like a natural fit for Haozous, but the path to arriving there wasn't easy. Haozous had always been an artist, but fell into “going with what society wanted me to do,” she described—meaning getting a degree and a 9 to 5. Haozous received a Bachelor's in social work and continued her work in that sphere, but that left considerably less time for art-making “I just wasn't happy,” she said. Several years ago, after returning to New Mexico from Standing Rock, she described, “realizing a lot of truths about this world,” and so she became more fearless. “I said, you know what—I'm going to do what I want to do, what speaks to me and lights my fire—and I believe that is art.”
For the last three years, Haozous has tireless pursued this singular passion, working in multiple mediums to challenge and inspire. During this time she has become increasingly recognized for her pubic artwork, namely murals, creating eight distinct pieces around the state in the last two years alone. Throughout the next several weeks she will create yet another piece in conjunction with Mural Fest, Albuquerque's three-week long celebration of public art that aims to beautify and unify the city, while showcasing artistic talent against the unique backdrop that Albuquerque offers. This year's artists, in addition to Haozous, include locals like Jodie Herrera and Joeseph Arnoux and artists from farther afield like Puerto Rico’s Sofia Maldonado, Colombia's Felipe Ortiz and Pakistan's Naveen Shakil. Murals that speak to this year's theme of “When Nature Calls,” will be created in every corner of the city.
“What I like about doing murals is that they speak directly to the community; they're readily available. You can speak directly to the people about these social issues that are impacting them in their own neighborhoods and communities,” Haozous said of what continually inspires her public arts practice. “And maybe I can just plant the seed of a thought. Maybe create some dialogue that starts that ripple effect that creates change.” Her mural for the Fest, which kicks off on Sept. 22 and runs through Oct. 13 with various events along the way, will be created at Emerson Elementary School (620 Georgia St. SE).
While still in the process of creating sketches and finalizing her design for the expansive front entrance of the school, Haozous described her vision for the project. “What I'm focusing on is water is life,” she began. “That water is a lifeline for New Mexico residents … depicting water as a literal lifeline within my mural. On the opposite side [of the wall], depicting the opposite—how it is being threatened now, like how fracking is impacting our water and soil.” Haozous imagines young people that attend the school, and any visitors, as positioned within that landscape. They receive a visual education by way of the mural, and then, moving out into the world or into this place of education, she asks “Which way are you going to go as you're walking forward? What are you going to do?”
There's an exchange that happens too—it's not just the artist posing questions, but Haozous intentionally puts herself into dialogue with community members. That often happens during the designing of the mural as she considers what's impacting certain neighborhoods and communities, and occurs as happenstance during the actual painting process. She described creating the mural on the facade of OT Circus in downtown Albuquerque (709 Central Ave. SW) in collaboration with Joeseph Arnoux, for example, where people stopped to ask questions, just to talk or even share food with Haozous as she worked. “Doing mural work has helped me grow as an artist because you are forced to interact with the community versus being in your own studio with a canvas,” she described. “You put yourself out there to talk, face-to-face, to interact. That's a beautiful thing that is sometimes missing from our daily lives—that's community building.”
That thought underlines the mission of Mural Fest in conception and in practice—bridging gulfs between artists and other community members, between businesses and nonprofits, neighborhood associations, local government and other organizations, to celebrate all that Albuquerque is and help to forge the path onward to a bright future.
“Art is very powerful,” Haozous said. “It can cause revolutions—it has been known to.” Her conviction in the power of art surfaces in the work that she creates and her conscientious approach to designing and executing it. Keep an eye out for her latest mural—full of depth and charged with the spirit of activism—in the coming weeks at Emerson Elementary. During that interval of time, she will also be creating a mural for the Albuquerque Peace and Justice Center (202 Harvard Dr. SE) depicting Honduran activist Berta Cáceres. Find out more about Mural Fest by visiting muralfest.com for a complete list of participating artists and events. And stay tuned to Santa Fe Art Institute's website, sfai.org, for events happening in conjunction with Haozous' residency there.
As we discussed the list of projects she's working on, and the catalog became ever longer, I commented on how busy she must feel. “Honestly, I love what I do,” she laughed—and summed it all up tidily, “I just want to make my family and my community proud.”