Native American artists are hoping murals that reflect their cultures’ views on health and wellbeing will bring comfort and healing to patients at the UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center.
The two murals currently hanging in the hospital are the first of many the hospital hopes to commission Native American artists to paint as part of an
effort to reach out to American Indian communities.
“We’re the closest hospital to Native Americans,” Sandoval Regional Medical Director Kevin Rogols said. “We wanted to be able to tell their story.”
A colorful mural by an artist from the Jicarilla Apache Nation, Felix Vigil, focuses on a ceremony dedicated to health called the Bear Dance.
“Since the space is for people who come here to get well, I wanted to convey the true meaning of the ceremony to the public,” Vigil said. His painting was unveiled at the hospital Dec. 14.
Creating a sense of community by bringing elements of Native American culture to the hospital through art is the goal of Jemez Pueblo resident
Paul Fragua, a tribal community outreach coordinator who has served as a liaison between the hospital and the pueblos.
“It’s a two-way value,” Fragua said. “The tribal members coming into this center by seeing these large murals on the wall now become connected to this place and … feel comfortable and welcome and certainly feel pride.
The value to the non-tribal community members that work there are now they are exposed to the tribes in Sandoval County and maybe become a little bit more aware about who we are,” Fragua added.
Zia Pueblo artist Marcellus Medina’s ethereal mural of clouds, butterflies, birds and “Indian angels” symbolizes rejuvenation, the vitality of life and the connectedness of all things, Medina said.
“In the spirit world we don’t separate things,” said Medina, a self-taught artist who has
painted professionally for 36 years. “Everything comes back together as one mind, one spirit, one body.”
Vigil expressed a similar sentiment behind his mural.
“Everything is connected, whether we are consciously or subconsciously aware,”
explained Vigil, who worked on his painting for 15 hours a day over two months.
Vigil hopes the images and tactile appeal of sumac leaves adhered to his mural, which represent the woven baskets the Jicarillas are known for, will draw people to his painting.
“I want people to come close and look … and be absorbed in the images,” Vigil said of his mixed- media mural of acrylics, oil pastels and charcoal.
Medina’s 6-foot-by-20-foot mural is a colorful depiction of figures, animals and symbols. At the center is what Medina calls “the mother of the world.”
The kneeling woman dressed in traditional garb holds between her hands a radiating light that Medina refers to as the “energy of enlightenment.”
When Medina’s 9-year-old grandson saw the mural, Medina said he seemed to intuitively understand the meaning behind the images on the canvas.
“My grandson was looking at (the mural) and he was like, ‘Grandpa! You know what? I can stand between those lady’s two hands and be blessed,’” Medina said. “I was just amazed: He saw it! He got it.”
Medina said he hopes patients at the hospital will respond to the maternal elements in his painting.
“The patients can look at this mural and remember (that) a long time ago their mother or grandmother told them to have faith in themselves,” Medina said.
And in a more general sense, Medina said he hopes that patients and those visiting the hospital will “connect with the painting. Hopefully, it reinforces the idea that life is precious.”