Albuquerque is definitely a city of art, and in the past decade, we have seen an explosion of mural projects in the city. But what does it take for a mural to become iconic and stand the test of time? Is it popularity? Staying power? Or is it the message? One of the city’s newest cinderblock frescoes is hidden along the east-facing wall of a strip mall located near the corner of 3900 Central Ave. SE and Morningside Dr. If you pass the Domino’s Pizza and Cowboys and Indians Antiques, you’ve gone too far. You can see the vibrant piece as you roll west on Central from San Mateo. If you have kids in the car, they will immediately see it and yell at the top of their lungs to “Look!” And that is when you pull an illegal U-turn, dodging ART buses, and park in the Domino’s parking lot to take a look at something amazing. “It’s, like, too cute!” was my kids’ impression. What’s too cute for words is the new collaborative art piece by artists SABA, Votan and Povi. SABA runs SABAHUT. He is the founder of the HomeGrown Trading Post and co-owner of NSRGNTS, a design company headed by Votan (Maya/Nahua) and his partner Leah “Povi” Marie (Pueblo/Hopi/Dine’).
The mural was funded in part by the Native Health Initiative, a partnership between health profession students and Indigenous communities. It’s a vibrant pop art eye candy explosion of color and Southwestern design elements combined with homogeneous cues from the styles of various South American peoples, all mixed up in an emoji world where adobe abodes are rocket ships and butterflies and hummingbirds flutter amidst smiling cacti. It is a world I want to live in. It is a world our kids imagine. But the deeper message is there when you look more closely. The Paper. asked Votan, Povi and SABA to put the mural into context in their own words.
Povi: This concept developed because we always want to encourage the relationships that we have with our relatives from down south. So naturally, this conversation is without politics. Because we just go back to traditionalism. We can go back to our trade routes. We can go back to our migrations, animal migration, even plant migrations. And so we were wondering: OK, we see so many of our kids out here. We want them to feel represented in the most positive way. So, through positive representation, that’s how we developed these characters. And right now, there are so many [Native] kids that are both from the north and the south that we wanted them to feel represented as well. And also, with this mural, we just wanted to put out the gentle reminder of a land acknowledgment for all the people, especially in this neighborhood, that are moving in. There’s a lot of gentrification taking place. And we just wanted to show who resides on this land. Relationships that have been for time immemorial.
Votan: You know what’s interesting too is that we all know that we’re related. … And this is putting that into perspective, where we actually are showing that we truly are related, We’ve exchanged so many different ideas, materials and built relationships. Like, we become now a part of their community, and they become part of our communities. And most importantly, I think is to be able to continue to feed that expansion, that solidarity, that feeling of community and family. I think it started to evolve into us doing things like this, like murals, painting murals throughout not just Indian country, but like, you know, abroad as well in other countries, and being able to take that message to other communities. To show other Indigenous communities where they also feel the same way, like, they have the same connection, the same respect as those up north.
There is no borders. I think that’s what this mural also brings to the community where I’ve known people for all my life. But also you see many people here in Albuquerque that are either southern Native or northern Native. And then when they see a mural like this, it brings out both of those sides when they’re mixed. It brings out that pride. You know what I mean? Our relations.
SABA: It was beautiful. I mean, I’ve always looked up to Voton because he’s an OG in the T-shirt game. So when I hit the scene, he was already at least five, 10 years deep in it. And so it was automatic once we collided in the field, because we both emit that same energy in our art, you know? … It’s kind of a no-brainer, especially traveling and planting all these seeds everywhere. The types of conversation art brings is really who we are. So we make these super, super heavy, relations and connections with people all over. We get to translate their stories with our art and include them.
The unveiling night brought out a crowd of all ages and backgrounds, and social media was aflutter with pictures. You can drive down Central Avenue most days and see someone out taking a photo.
The Test of Time
With all this love, what could possibly go wrong? Apparently, this is high-value real estate because of the great wall space and parking spots in the area. The building owner has the final say on the usage of the space and whether or not legal action is pursued in the case of “vandalism.” Artists are constantly pursuing permission to use the spot next. But NSRGNTS, SABA, and the Native Health Initiative hope that the public continues to show even more love and make the mural a placeholder for Indigenous people as they live in or pass through town.