Chantelle Yazzie ’15
HOMETOWN: Heartbutte, N.M.
MAJORS: Social work and studio art
Chantelle Yazzie describes herself as “normally pretty reserved.”
But as an artist whose focus is advocating for her native Navajo tribe, she is anything but.
I make statement art to comment on social issues and bring attention to them—my goals are to stir up discussion on injustices that are right under our noses,
says Chantelle, whose mediums include photography, drawing, painting and sugar.
It sounds strange, but after seeing reports of increased cases of diabetes and obesity among her tribe, Chantelle turned to plain old white sugar to create “The Sugar Project: Modern Day Navajo Monster,” an ominous sketch of two faces, both with Xs for eyes and mouths. She also produced a short video to help spread her message around the Navajo Nation, a reservation in New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.
“I tried to depict sugar as being this beautiful, sparkly incentive in my photos and art piece … but I used this concept of a monster to show the Navajo people that we have created our own monster and, slowly, it is killing us.
My father cautioned me that I would offend people with this project, and I was like, ‘Yes! I am doing something right!’
Chantelle doesn’t just live to challenge other people, however. When choosing a college, she wanted a community that would encourage her to grow. Calvin fit that need.
“I wanted a place that would challenge me in multiple worlds like the social, academic and spiritual—all are a struggle for me, and I’m getting what I wanted in terms of tests and trials. I feel that Calvin is testing more of my weaknesses as well as enhancing my strengths.”
Along with personal growth, Chantelle says her Calvin professors have helped her discover her voice as an artist.
“Calvin has some of the best and most critical professors in the art department. They are never afraid to speak what they think about your projects. Professor Mandy Villalobos, in particular, has made time for me and really puts my work into perspective. She sees things in a broader sense, which is good because I want my message to reach as many people as I can with my work.
And it’s working. After seeing “The Sugar Project,” several members of the Navajo community—including Chantelle’s grandma—vowed to give up sugary items like soda.
So sugar is just the beginning for this artist. Her latest project, “Our Glittering World,” focuses on another modern monster within the Navajo Nation: alcohol. The piece features a mosaic of the Navajo tribal seal, made up of broken alcohol bottles found on the land of the dry reservation.
Chantelle plans to use the skills she’s developed at Calvin to be a lifelong advocate for her Navajo people. With her social work and art degrees, she hopes to form a therapeutic art program on the Navajo reservation, working with youths who are troubled by drugs, domestic violence, obesity and other modern monsters.
“The most important aspect for me to touch on is the restoration of harmony in our youth,” she says. “It is said in our culture that when this harmony is lost from a person, that is when the monsters come out. Restoration is essential for the Navajo culture to continue, and the youth are the future.
“I am, essentially, the future.”