Printmakers You Should Know: Melanie Yazzie

I wasn't planning on doing a series on American Indian printmakers in 2016, but since there's so much evocative and provoking work out there, let's keep going with Melanie Yazzie (1966-):

Image courtesy of

A member of the Navajo Nation, Yazzie grew up in Ganado, Arizona. She earned her B.F.A. at Arizona State University, Tempe. She earned her M.F.A. at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where she now teaches as a professor of art and printmaking. She is particularly interested in non-toxic printmaking techniques, and takes the ecological impact of her work into consideration (incidentally, she's a fan of Akua inks, the same ones I use in my own work).

Crow, 2013, monotype, image courtesy of
Give Me a Hand, 2011, monotype, image courtesy of
Over the course of her career, Yazzie's focus has shifted. In her earlier work, she focused on the political and social challenges of being Native American in a primarily Anglocentric society, highlighting racism, poverty, domestic abuse, and other contentious issues. Historical events and their ongoing consequences, such as the trauma of genocide, assimilation, and other 19th-century colonial measures on the part of the United States government and dominant culture, has also informed the subject matter of her work.

More recently, Yazzie has focused on creating art with a more optimistic outlook. An ongoing practice throughout her career has been the necessity of creating beauty and harmony through her art, reflective the Navajo (Dine) dictum "walk in beauty."

John Blackhorse Hangs Out At Earl's, 1996, bronze, image courtesy of

Growing Stronger, 2010, bronze, image courtesy of

Strength from Within, 2004, fabricated steel, image courtesy of
A multimedia artist, Yazzie works in painting, sculpture, and printmaking. As a printmaker, she often creates complex, layered monotypes and other forms that reflect both Navajo culture as a whole and more personal biographical experiences. Animals appear frequently in her work, reflecting biographical experiences as well as broader Navajo mythologies and cosmologies. Often described as whimsical, the playful character of Yazzie's work is really a gateway to deeper conversations on American Indian identity. Through the beauty of her prints and sculpture, she invites viewers to engage the work more deeply, and reflect on personal identity, community, and history, and how they intertwine.

As a fellow printmaker, I love the collaged look of her work, and the ways in which she layers colors to created complex yet relatable images. She's clearly a technical master, but there's also a sense of play and improvisation that enhances the approachability of her work. It's why she's so effective as an artist; the playful beauty of her work invites prolonged looking and meditation.

Jackalope, 2011, monotype, image courtesy of

Image courtesy of
Through her art and lectures, Yazzie educates the public on both American Indian culture, and ongoing challenges within contemporary reservation life. Through the beauty of her work, she inspires viewers to learn not only about other cultures, but to consider the repercussions of our historical actions.

Horse in Alaska, 2011, monotype, image courtesy of

Want to learn more?


  1. Some of the prints resemble silk batik printing. -DAC


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