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Comics n Culture: An interview with Navajo Artist Keith Jim
~ Dr. Dawn Karima
Q) What does it mean to you to be an artist?
A) It means a lot for me to make something
that everyone will enjoy. My family, friends and
upcoming fans. I try to work hard on every piece
and try to make the best of it. Most times,
I would repeat the art so many times till
I feel like I get it right. It not just for me,
it's for everyone.
Q) When did you begin your artistic journey?
A) My first experience would've been in college. I was in college but they didn't have a spot for me in Art class, because I was a late register. Although I wasn't in any art class, I was still able to join art contest, trips etc.
Q) How did you realize that you wanted to pursue art as a career?
A) I have a story in my head. I grew up with this story. It's one of our tribe's stories. So I decided to do that piece. I went on the trip to an all Native competition. I remember I placed 2nd out of like 300 artists. It blew my mind. Also, I got to meet other tribes and artistry was fun!
Q) Congratulations! What's your creative process?
A) Every time I start an art project, I try my very best to let it come out the best. I've been doing this for as long as I can remember, even as a kid.
Q) What emotions swirl around as you create art? How do you feel? How do you hope that others feel about your art?
A) Every time I finish a piece I feel, " finally I can rest" ...haha. It feels good. I love it. I wish others would and maybe they do feel the same way I feel about my art. I hope I've touched and reached out to them in some way.
Q) While you're inspiring others, who inspired you?
A) I've met people through my life that loved my art. They wanted it. I'll get requests and I'll try to make them happy the best I can. I think the college story of me placing 2nd out of 300 people is my most memorable story. It took me about a week to finish that piece. Then later, the college I was at had their own art show and of course, I entered and at the end the guy who ran the show ended up wanting to buy my art.
I'll have to give thanks to my " Nali " grandpa. He told me a lot of stories as I was growing up. I just drew what I imagined as he told his stories.
Q) Many of your pieces depict pressing issues facing Native America. How do you impact Indian Country through your art?
A) When I create a piece for something that I feel people need to see, I try to let others see what they see or we see. I recently did a piece of "The Missing and Murdered of Native American women" and " NO DAPL "I try to reach out to them and help spread the situation they are in. Something like " reach out and be heard, stand up for your right "kind of thing. I'll have to thank my sister Alyssia for that, she is always pushing me to do this and do that for this and she'll be like " have you done it yet?"
Q) How do you stay motivated?
A) I have some art for my personal collection, something I look back on, ones I've created from personal experience. When at times life isn't going as well as I want it to be, I look back at those pieces. That leads to others drawings. I've also done some for like " smoking cigarettes is bad or drugs isn't the Native way " ads. Out there somewhere there's someone feeling like me I wish I could share this art piece with. my life lesson, art keeps me going and I want my art to keep them going.
Q) Does your Navajo heritage appear in your art?
A) I try to keep my art as tribal as possible. The ones that are anyway. To keep the traditional stories alive and going. To pass on to the next generation. To my kids. I hope one day people out there and people within our tribe would see that the characters in my art aren't from my imagination but within our cultural stories, that they have been around for years and years.
Q) We discovered your art when you worked on a project for our non-profit. You have a stunning style!
A) Most days, I cant go without art. I need to draw something. I have so many things in my head that wants to come out. Being away from home I try to stay in touch with my cultural ways. I speak to my kids in our language.
Q) What would you like to draw next?
A) I would say the stories. Our traditional stories. I wanna create something different with them. Something no one else has done.
Q) Any words of wisdom for those who might follow in your footsteps?
A) I would just like to say to the people who want to make their dreams come true is to never stop. One day some day it'll come. Not to give up. I'm saying this out of personal experience. To my native brothers and sisters, to please stick to your culture, learn your ways, keep them teach them, its not over.
Q) Anything else you want us to know about you?
A) I would like to send a special thanks to my family for supporting me all these years, without them I don't know where I would be, BEAR CLAN. Thanks to friends and thanks to upcoming fans. Thanks to all the people who helped me get here.