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Hopi Mural at Dallas Museum of Art Reflects Universal Human Odyssey

Hopi artists Michael Kabotie and Delbridge Honanie always intended for their mural, “Journey of the Human Spirit” to take a journey of its own. Its display at the Dallas Museum of Art through Dec. 2 is its first exhibition outside of Arizona and the Museum of Northern Arizona, fulfilling the wishes of the deceased artists.

“It was their dream for this mural to travel and now it has. It really just gives me warm feelings to know we helped them achieve one of their goals. We hope it will travel even more,” Dr. Kelley Hays-Gilpin, Curator of Anthropology at the Museum of Northern Arizona, said.

The mural, nearly five feet tall and forty-eight feet long, consists of six panels designed to travel easily.

Michael Kabotie and Delbridge Honanie, Journey of the Human Spirit (on view at the Museum of Northern Arizona), 2001, acrylic on canvas, Courtesy of the Museum of Northern Arizona, © Gene Balzer
Photo credit: Courtesy of the Museum of Northern Arizona, © Gene Balzer

In addition to the mural, “Hopi Visions: Journey of the Human Spirit” includes 28 pieces from the Dallas Museum of Art’s collection, including ancestral Sikyatki Polychrome ceramic vessels and modern kachina dolls.

Some of the complementary pieces are on display for the first time. “As an encyclopedic museum, we hope to provide a venue for world arts, global voices and inspiring visions of our community,” Kimberly L. Jones, The Ellen and Harry S. Parker III Assistant Curator of the Arts of the Americas at the Dallas Museum of Art, said.

The mural, dated 2001, reflects the history of the Hopi people from cultural emergence to a hopeful prophesy.

Michael Kabotie’s son, Ed Kabotie, is pleased to see his father’s work travel to Dallas. “To me, it’s a very moving thing to see this mural travel outside its home,” Kabotie said. “When my father passed away, I felt his work was at its peak. I felt like his message was at its peak. I felt like he was really saying things about who we are as Hopi and really the universality of human experience,” Kabotie said.

The mural depicts the Hopi culture’s ancient past as it established itself. Colorful figures are followed by a gray figure representing an unhealed presence that shadows the Hopi throughout history. The Hopi revolt against Spanish colonists in 1680 fills the next panel, reflecting the violence and suffering of the era. Spanish priests unsuccessfully attempted to convert the Hopi and after a series of abuses, the Hopi retaliated.

“We’re the only Native American people in written history to oust an established European colony from our homeland,” Kabotie said.

The next panel shows a resurgence of Hopi culture, with colorful figures thriving as the Hopi return to their traditions. The Hopi’s contentment transitions into modern dilemmas as their highly-prized land is exploited for its natural resources of uranium, water, oil and coal. The mural shows the impact of the controversial strip mining operation on the Hopi.

The final panel is the artists’ promising prediction for future generations. “My father kind of plays with the prophecy of a young man of pure heart and a young woman of pure heart who are entrusted with sacred knowledge that they share with the rest of the world and there will be restoration that comes from it,” Kabotie said.

Kabotie explains why a computer plays such a significant role in the prophecy. “My father had a funny sense of humor,” he said. “In the Judeo-Christian story, the original brother-sister twin, Adam and Eve, they messed everything up by eating the apple. So maybe the Hopi brother and sister twin in the future will bring restoration through an Apple computer and they’ll blast out via the world-wide web responsible truths.”

Besides the computer in the prophecy, the mural consists of elements and symbols commonly found in both ancient Hopi ceramics and rock art and contemporary Hopi art. The influence of past Hopi generations on the current generation of Hopi artists is reflected in one of the final pieces in the exhibition, Ed Kabotie’s “Path to Balance”. The drawing reflects the nine stages of the human experience from conception and birth to life’s final balance.

“It is actually a tribute piece for my father when he passed away,” Kabotie said. “It is an individual version of this great journey that all of us are on, trying to find who we are, what we are and where we fit.”

Kabotie hopes visitors will recognize the common human experience in this mural. “This is not only the journey of the Hopi. This is actually the journey of the Greek empire, the Roman empire, the United States and really every other culture,” Kabotie said.

“Hopi Visions: Journey of the Human Spirit” is included in the Dallas Museum of Art’s daily free admission.

Kimberly Richard is a North Texan with a passion for the arts. She’s worked with Theatre Three, Inc. and interned for the English National Opera and Royal Shakespeare Company. She graduated from Austin College and currently lives in Garland with her very pampered cocker spaniel, Tessa.

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