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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


May 1, 2004 - Issue 112


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Artist draws upon life

by Haley Smith - Oklahoma University Daily Staff Writer
credits: photo 1: "Bird (Blue)" by Marwin Begaye; photo 2: Daydreaming 1993
acrylic on canvas 37" x 37" by Marwin Begaye

Graduate student Marwin Begaye was the winner of the T.G. Mays Purchase Award for his artwork.

"Bird (Blue)" by Marwin BegayeLife serves as a constant source of inspiration for art throughout the world. From the beginning of time, humans have used their surroundings to express aspects of their lives through paintings, drawings, sculptures and other artwork.

Marwin Begaye, fine arts graduate student, recently earned an art award for putting these techniques into practice.

Begaye was the recipient of the T.G. Mays Purchase Award for a piece of artwork entered in the 90th Annual School of Art Students' Exhibition, which began April 2 at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art. His winning piece is titled "Dah yiitihi bi yiin," a Navajo expression meaning "hummingbird songs."

Begaye's piece incorporated a mixture of art techniques, including the use of oil, acrylic, screenprint, graphite, lithocrayon, lithopencil, baby and linseed oil on paper.

Begaye said he tries to experiment with different media, combining older traditions with his own modern style.

Daydreaming 1993Living Among Creativity
Begaye said he attempts to maintain his culture by including elements of its history in his works. Begaye's award-winning painting features a hummingbird, an important symbol to his Navajo culture.

"The hummingbird is used as a messenger," Begaye said. "For the Navajo, in some aspects [hummingbirds] are used for good luck, good fortune or to mean good things will come to you."

Begaye's passion for art began while growing up in Jones Ranch Community near Gallup, N.M. Begaye said he was always surrounded by different forms of art when he was a child.

He said his grandmother and several of his aunts are rug weavers, while other relatives are jewelers. He also said the atmosphere of living on a Native American reservation inspired creativity in artwork.

"When you live on a reservation, you kind of make due with stuff," Begaye said. "You work with found objects and make them into stuff. You take part of billboards and make shacks. You're kind of composing structures or sculptures, or whatever. That's a kind of an art."

After attending OU in 1994 for only a year, Begaye had to postpone further education at the university so he could work to earn money for student loans.

He returned to the School of Art in 2001 to pursue a master's degree in fine arts with an emphasis on printmaking. He studied under the advisement of Dan Kiacz, printmaking professor, who Begaye said was a very influential force in his life and his artwork.

A Bittersweet Time
Although Begaye said the recent acceptance of the prestigious purchase award was an uplifting moment in his life, he said it came at a bittersweet time.

Nearly a week after Begaye received the accolade for his work, the mentor who had helped him come so far passed away. Kiacz was 55 years old when he died on April 9.

Begaye will teach Kiacz's printmaking classes for the remainder of the semester. Begaye said he is dedicated to carrying Kiacz's legacy by trying to be as encouraging and motivating as his former professor.

"Dan really encouraged me to create relationships with the students, to encourage them to reach the next level of their creativity," Begaye said. "I'm just going to be who I am. I try to do things as he liked them."

Although Begaye has experienced a loss in his life with the death of his friend and mentor, he said he plans to stay positive and serve as a source of inspiration for people who observe his artwork.

"I'm trying to keep it up and maintain momentum even though there are hardships," Begaye said. "I just want to be influential to artists in the community."

A Permanent Piece
Begaye said he was very excited to win his second purchase award for his artwork. He won the Oscar B. Jacobson Purchase Award in 2002 for a piece titled, "Winter Prayers."

"It was really quite a surprise that I won. I was kind of glad that they bestowed that honor on me," Begaye said. "I feel very, very honored to be a part of their collection."

Mary Jo Watson, associate professor in the School of Art, said the purchase award recipient is selected by a panel of judges, who are usually museum directors, art connoisseurs or specialists from around the country.

These judges must be capable of recognizing quality artwork so they can distribute the purchase award to a worthy piece, Watson said. The museum then has the option of purchasing the student artwork.

"The museum will buy the piece, the artist will receive money for it and then the piece will go into the permanent collection of the museum," Watson said.

Watson said Begaye's artwork was likely selected for the award because of the multiple techniques included in the piece.

"His artwork has a very good presence because it's made by a person who has the concepts and originality," Watson said. "He's a very fine graphic artist, printmaker and painter."

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