Artists are leveraging technology to explore abandoned desert lands and mines in Navajo Nation – all from the comfort of an art gallery. Using virtual reality and props like a gas mask, a hazmat suit, and a shovel, participants can dig in and take a walk down memory lane without jeopardizing their health and safety.
Many years ago, residents near these mines had to walk away from home due to uranium contamination at close by mills. Only shells of these buildings are still standing today – and the full extent of the deterioration is visible in the virtual tour.
This tour is a simulated model of the impacts of uranium mining on indigenous lands. It also paints a stark contrast to preserved beauties and sacred sites, such as the Buffalo Park meadows and the rim of the Grand Canyon.
As participants take a leisurely stroll through the tour, it becomes even more realistic when they stumble upon a James Uqualla, a Havasupai tribal member who speaks out about the need to protect the region.
Radioactive contamination is an ongoing issue, according to the Coconino Center for the Arts, the tour’s creator.
The center recently spoke to the Arizona Daily Sun and firmly believes that it’s an artist’s duty to explore real-world issues and depict them creatively through paintings, photos, sculptures, and more.
The virtual reality tours offered by Coconino Center for the Arts provide insight on the negative impacts of uranium mining on the Navajo Reservation. This virtual video, in particular, is a part of an exhibit titled “Hope and Trauma in a Poisoned Land.”
The center has scheduled several discussions mirroring the exhibit, one of which emphasizes the ecological, biological, social, and emotional effects of uranium mines beginning this fall.
Two years ago, the art center spearheaded a similar project called “Fires of Change”. To represent the impacts of uranium mining more accurately, the artists teamed up with local experts, including scientists, psychologists, medical workers, and members of the community to listen and learn.
For some of the artists at the center, this provocative topic hits close to home.
Painter Jerrel Singer, for example, experienced the devastating effects of uranium mining as his family fell ill after consuming the meat of livestock that drank polluted water.
Other artists who are far removed from having a firsthand experience fully immersed themselves into hearing the stories of those who were affected.
The subsequent results of this experimentation were heartbreak and shock over the lack of protection offered to residents and uranium miners.
Now, these same artists are coming together to bring about positive changes through art.