Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community member Dwayne Manuel is completing his master of fine arts degree (MFA) at the University of Arizona this semester. Along with 10 other MFA candidates, Manuel is showing his artwork in a thesis exhibition at the University of Arizona Museum of Art and the Joseph Gross Gallery.
The exhibition kicked off with an opening reception on Thursday, April 7, and will run through Friday, May 16. Manuel was surprised with support from his family and friends during the opening reception, and many visitors and spectators were drawn to his paintings, which feature imagery focused on Native American concerns. Manuel answered questions and explained the meaning of each painting.
“The paintings are about Native American issues,” said Manuel, “health issues, diabetes, violence, addiction, and historical water and land issues. I feel it’s my responsibility as an O’odham person to address these issues.”
What Manuel hopes people get out of his paintings is self-reflection to think about what they’re doing in life.
One of his four paintings in the exhibition is titled “Pima Ben.” It shows a Native American man in a canal of garbage filled with vomit, drugs, alcohol, sex, and government food commodities given to Native people, such as flour. The Indian is trying to shovel out all the garbage, but it’s a never-ending cycle. In the center of the painting is a white hand, representing the government stopping the water for dams. Above that is a basket design and a Man in the Maze design, both representing the cultural aspect of the O’odham people.
After Manuel graduates in May, he plans to get a teaching job and is looking forward to working with children from elementary school to college level.
“It feels good to finally finish school; I just have to focus on the next step,” said Manuel. “I would like to thank my mom, the Community, Salt River Education for helping me pay my way through college, and also my friends and family.”
Manuel will also have an exhibition at the Tohono O’odham Nation Cultural Center and Museum featuring his contemporary basket paintings, on display from May 10 through November 1.
Editor’s note: Dwayne Manuel has an exhibit called Expansion: Contemporary Adaptations of Traditional Hu’a Designs, May 10 to November 1 at the Tohono O’odham Nation Cultural Center & Musuem. For more information call (520) 383-0200.