Left: NBA basketball player LeBron James posted a photo of the new Desert Journey Collection’s Air Vapor Untouchable shoes on both Facebook (51,000 likes) and Instagram (180,000 likes). Photo Courtesy Christi Andrews. Right: The Nike Desert Journey Collection included this limited edition jersey, which was given to youth who attended the N7 camp. The basketry and weaponry designs are shown on this jersey.

Nike Desert Journey Collection Designer Dwayne Manuel Puts SRPMIC on the Map

By Sheila Begay
Au-Authm Action News

“I not only represent for [O’odham and Piipaash], but for everybody in Indian Country.” At 30, Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community artist Dwayne Manuel has set a new standard for Community and Native artists. His recent collaboration has put the SRPMIC in the spotlight and is the talk of Indian Country.

That collaboration, which started in May 2014, has resulted in the Nike Desert Journey Collection, which includes Nike Desert Journey apparel and footwear designed by Manuel. The collection was released on the Saturday before Super Bowl XLIX.

“I was surprised and in shock—I mean, not a lot of artists can say they worked with Nike,” said Manuel about the first time he heard of his collaboration with Nike. “‘Is this real?’ is the question that I asked myself a lot.”

Manuel is the son of Community members Alice and Coleman Manuel. His maternal grandparents are Audrey and Wayne Santo. His paternal grandparents are Lazarus and Hilda Manuel.

Manuel graduated from Desert Eagle Secondary School (now Salt River High School) and the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He also was awarded a master of fine arts degree from the University of Arizona School of Art. After completing his education, Manuel followed his roots back to his Community, where he is currently an art teacher at Salt River High School. “All these students are my kids nowadays,” said Manuel.

Desert Journey Collection

Manuel specializes in both drawing and graffiti art. He has been drawing for as long as he can remember. Manuel’s work has been featured in many art galleries and exhibits. This experience is what led Manuel to the opportunity of a lifetime, working with Nike to design an apparel and footwear collection honoring the SRPMIC and Indian Country.

“Like most Native artists, [for me] creating art is an opportunity to express one’s identity and heritage. Art in Indian Country tends to have an in-depth meaning and is usually derived from traditional teachings and meanings that have been passed down from generation to generation,” said Manuel.

In the Desert Journey Collection, Manuel highlights weaponry and basketry for specific reasons. Being O’odham, basketry has always been a part of his life. His mother, Alice Manuel, a well-known basket weaver, is his inspiration and plays a huge role in his more contemporary artwork. He took traditional basket designs and used his creativity to incorporate their elements into his designs and artwork.

Weaponry also plays a significant role in Manuel’s designs. He took into account how his ancestors used weaponry and how this played a role in their fight for survival.

“When you think of the O’odham people, [basketry] is what they’re known for. A lot of my artwork is based on basketry [designs],” said Manuel. “[My use of] weaponry [designs] has a lot to do with combat and competition; [we’re always in] a battle.”

Thinking about the desert journey for survival, weaponry and basketry have both played roles in the survival of the river people. Some of the symbols that Manuel used in the Desert Journey Collection designs are a war shield, a whirlwind, basket designs, and the Man in the Maze, which give these products significant meaning and unique value.

“It was all business—they didn’t beat around the bush about anything, which is what I liked. They gave me [specific projects] that needed to be done at [specific times]. It was all good business,” said Manuel about his experience with Nike.

“This project was very intimidating. I didn’t really know what to expect, honestly. Due to a confidentiality agreement with Nike, I couldn’t say anything to anyone, not even my mother. So when the product launched on [January 31], that’s when the word got out. Everyone was blowing up my Facebook, text inbox, email, and I even got phone calls.”

Manuel’s designs were unique enough to catch the attention of NBA basketball player LeBron James. James posted a photo of the new Desert Journey Collection’s Air Vapor Untouchable shoes on both Facebook and Instagram. The photo currently has more than 51,000 likes on Facebook and more than 180,000 likes on Instagram.

“I was pretty hyped,” said Manuel when he saw that James had posted a photo of his designs. “I don’t really follow a lot of [athletes], but people were sending me screenshots of his Instagram post. I was like, ‘Wow. This world-famous basketball player has these shoes [which] I helped collaborate on.’ It felt cool, but I didn’t let it get to my head because I didn’t know him and he didn’t give me a shout-out. But he was wearing them and sporting them and giving props to this product that he really liked. After that, tons of people saw it. That’s good enough for me.”

Manuel said he is proud and also very humbled. “My grandma is funny—she doesn’t care much about designer items or name-brand items, but she knows that Nike is a huge corporation. After the products launched, she said she was proud of me. My parents said they were proud of me too. That felt good,” said Manuel. “My grandma also said her friends, who are her age, found out I was her grandson and they were teasing her, saying she would be walking around with a bunch of Nike products. It was pretty funny,” Manuel added with a laugh.

Still Dwayne “Insano”

Although his name skyrocketed in only a couple hours after the Nike Desert Journey Collection was released, Manuel describes himself as a normal guy who doesn’t like to be in the spotlight. He would rather be more in the background making things happen.

He enjoys Sons of Anarchy, Breaking Bad, movies, painting for fun and work, drawing and traveling (to paint). Although he gets the occasional mobs in public or his inbox is still flooded, he’s really still Dwayne “Insano” Manuel.

“Quite a few people have been tagging me a lot on Facebook. People keep asking me to sign their shoes, and I tell them, ‘Let me know, I’m down,” says Manuel, who is still amazed by all the feedback from his designs.

Manuel’s students were most surprised and proud, considering they see him almost every day. “It was cool because one of my students actually came in with [a limited-edition Nike Desert Journey Collection jersey] during lunchtime. I was sitting there and I had to do a triple look. I said, ‘Hey, that’s my jersey right there!’ It was my first time seeing it in real life. I’ve just seen pictures, but I got to see it in the flesh. It was pretty cool and awesome,” said Manuel.

When asked how he feels about his designs now being worldwide, Manuel responded with, “It feels pretty good. Our people’s designs are worldwide. The fact that these people are wearing them … they’re wearing them with pride. I think this puts us on the map a little more. I think people will know about us. It gives us a little more recognition and pride as a Community. We can say that we have a shoe out there that is represented by our people.”

Advice to Youth

To his students, Manuel advises, “Keep doing what you love. That’s a big part of it, but you always got to sacrifice sometimes. I love to paint. I could paint all day, but I need money and I have to sacrifice time. Eventually, something will happen, if you’re patient.”

If a student loves doing something or is passionate about it, he said, encourage them to follow their dreams. “Don’t always listen to what others are saying about you, but take what you need from those people. For example, everyone I meet, I take something from them or I learn something from them, [whether it’s good or bad]. You just have to learn how to filter it,” said Manuel.


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