When I’m traveling, I always keep an eye out for great graffiti. The writing on the walls says a lot about a place and its people. I first saw this baby head wall art months ago in Flagstaff, Arizona. Then on the way to the Grand Canyon it appeared again on the side of some tanks at an abandoned gas station near the all-but Ghost Town, Gray Mountain.
This time I saw something I recognized: 350.org, a climate change action force organized by the writer Bill McKibben, one of my own personal heroes. As it turns out, these installations, depicting a Navajo child under a hovering lump of coal, are intended to raise awareness about climate change on the Navajo reservation.
The Navajo people have a complicated relationship with coal. Their homelands in northeast Arizona and northwest New Mexico are rich in coal and poor in wood so coal has been used for generations as the main source of heat.
Back in the 1960’s two massive coal-fired power plants were built on Navajo land near Fruitland, New Mexico and Page, Arizona and mining operations near Black Mesa were industrialized to supply the plants. Today, the Navajoland generating stations are among the largest coal-fired power plants in the country, supplying electricity to Denver, Phoenix, Albuquerque and Las Vegas.
The coal mines and power plants supply jobs and income to the Navajo people, but pollution is rampant. The Four Corners Power Plant in Fruitland is the second-largest emitter of nitrogen oxides in the country and the Navajo Generating Station near Page is third, spewing 19.9 million tons of carbon emissions each year and requiring 9.1 billion gallons of water.
With all those pollutants in the air and in the water, perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that the man behind the 350.org installations is a doctor, a 25-year veteran of the Indian Health Service. His identity on the reservation isn’t a secret, but in the tradition of street artists, he prefers to go by his tag “Jetsonorama” in public forums.
The infant-and-coal image was born from a challenge by 350.org, asking street artists around the world to create work that spoke to the local connections to climate change. Jetsonorama photographed a Navajo friend’s infant daughter and a lump of coal from the Black Mesa mine to create his much larger than life installations.
See? There’s more to writing on the wall than you might think…
For more art from Jetsonorama, check out his blog Speaking Loud and Saying Nothing.