On Friday, May 13, graffiti artist and muralist Jaque Fragua, Jemez Pueblo, arrived in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, to collaborate on a massive mural on the side of the Osage Nation Language Building. By Saturday night, the work was completed.
Fragua, who is based in Albuquerque but lives a somewhat itinerant existence, was called in to aid NVision, the youth arts and culture program founded by Osage designer/entrepreneur Ryan Red Corn. “Ryan and I had never collaborated before,” says Fragua, “but he was in Albuquerque last year and saw some of my work in a street art show, as well as a large mural I had done. We had been communicating ever since; he’s been trying to get a mural in Pawhuska for a few years, and finally got the Osage Language Department to let him put one on the side of their building.”
Extremely prolific, Fragua has left his mark on urban environments all over North America—sometimes in accordance with the law, other times not. In March, he had painted murals and left tags on walls in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York; he’d spent much of April preparing “Vision Quest,” a joint multimedia show with the Dine pop artist Ryan Singer that opened at FireGod Gallery in Albuquerque on March 29, coincident with the Gathering of Nations Powwow. He’s used to working quickly and efficiently—Red Corn and his associate Ben Brown had a design for the mural, and plenty of local youths willing to do the work, but Fragua was essential to the project’s execution. “I was there to teach technique,” he says. “A lot of the kids didn’t know how to use spray paint, or why you would use it over something like latex or enamel. Spray paint is a very powerful tool, I was teaching them how to use that tool.”
Fragua also ended up teaching the kids some lessons about his own vision. “I was teaching them the philosophy of art, and my definition maybe speaks to them more than what they would get in the classroom,” he says. “I work with modern materials, and what I create is a little different from some people’s preconceived ideas about Native art.” Fragua describes the atmosphere as contagious, with momentum building as the day wore on. “The Language Center is on the main drag, so we had people driving by, honking and waving at us,” he says. “You know how it is in a small town—when something’s going on, pretty soon everybody knows about it.”
The mural depicts an Osage straight dancer superimposed over Osage orthography that spells Wah.Zha.Zhi I.E.—or “Osage language.”
What the future holds for Fragua is, as always, subject to change—a recent Twitter post to a friend reads “Yoyoyo, I’m looking for a hotel room this weekend…perhaps an art trade??? Lemme know :)”—but the one thing he’s fairly sure of is that he’ll make his European debut with a show, later this year, in Paris, France. “I’m always creating, as an artist you have to be,” he says, “and I want to create work all over the world.” Keep up with his travels and art at his blog, fragua.tumblr.com.