Portlander Demian DinéYazhi´ is getting ready to perform a work at PICA's Time Based Art Festival, or TBA, that has some serious miles on it. They spent the summer traveling the country performing a long prose poem — just published — called "An Infected Sunset." DinéYazhi´'s done readings in cities like Phoenix and St Louis, the Oglala Lakota Pine Ridge Reservation, and on Sioux land at Standing Rock. Now they'll perform it in full, collaborating with vocalist and composer Holland Andrews, Sept. 11 at TBA.
Demian DinéYazhi´ is a transdisciplinary Diné artist (born to the clans Naasht’ézhí Tábąąhá, or Zuni Clan Water’s Edge, and Tódích’íí’nii, or Bitter Water). They were born in Gallup, New Mexico, and grew up there and on the Navajo Reservation before moving to Portland.
In Portland DinéYazhi´ got a degree from Pacific Northwest College of Art, and produced a wide variety of durable and ephemeral art: traditional photo work for gallery walls. A reviewer for Art in America said their work "embodies the concept of survivance and stakes its claim to protect Indigenous life, culture, and sovereignty."
DinéYazhi´ also has an exhibition on view at Seattle's Henry Gallery through Sept. 9 — perfect for your Labor Day weekend trip.
Q&A with Demian DinéYazhi´
April Baer: What has your summer been like?
Demian DinéYazhi´: It's been a little insane, just traveling in and out of Portland a lot, trying to publish this book, "An Infected Sunset," trying to organize this tour. It was self-inflicted. I understand why people go to agents and all this other stuff now.
Baer: Is that something you would ever consider doing?
DinéYazhi´: I would if it was a Native agent, an indigenous person. That's important for me, to build those relationships and also uplift indigenous creative folks and organizers who are doing really important work.
Baer: “An Infected Sunset” is one long prose poem. You started writing it two summers ago, and there was a lot happening. The Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. The pipeline protests at Standing Rock were ongoing. Can you take us back to sort of your mental state when you started it?
DinéYazhi´: I think I was just really feeling a little alienated being in Portland. I'm thinking about communities, on the East Coast or even in Standing Rock or New Mexico that I wanted to be a part of and support and help. We're just so far out of reach. I started writing [while] going to Rooster Rock and hanging out at the nude beach, swimming in the Columbia. There's a line that's like, "Here I am drinking coconut water, listening to Laura Nyro." There was just this really weird disconnect. I felt very privileged to be where I was, and I also saw anything that I was doing from a distance as a way for me to take care of myself. I was really wrapping up some work that I had at the Portland Art Museum, curated by Deana Dart when she was still the Chief Curator of Contemporary Indigenous Art. So I was trying to figure out ways to both to get to Standing Rock, but also maintain my trajectory.
Baer: Where were some of your favorite readings on the road?
DinéYazhi´: Oh, this is so difficult. I mean they were all really great. Maybe my favorite reading was in St. Louis. It was a largely POC. St Louis always brings such beautiful energy. Prior to St. Louis I read in Tulsa, and that was like a pretty terrible experience. They said they were, at one point, that they didn't want me to read the poem because of the explicit sexual content. I don't really know what the motivations were. There were also amazing readings in Philadelphia and Rochester and Minneapolis. It's great to take this book out and share it with the community. But I think the most rewarding part of it is also being exposed to other writers.
Baer: Did you come to Portland for art school?
DinéYazhi´: I came to Portland to get out of dodge, get out of New Mexico and experience something different. I was just really fascinated by Portland's punk and DIY history of the '90s. I knew Sleater-Kinney made music here. I was a huge fan. Corin Tucker's voice had a profound impact on me growing up. Also, Beth Ditto [and her band Gossip] were so very amazing. I knew some of the energy would still be here.