The Museum of Art and History (MAH) is coloring outside of the lines, as evidenced by their latest exhibit “Coyote Now.” The installment is more like a life-sized coloring book plastered on the walls than it is a traditional curation of fine art. Actually, a coloring book for the community is exactly what it is, and Santa Cruz residents have left quite a mark.
Washington-based indigenous artist Ryan Feddersen is behind the larger-than-life drawings that follow the mischievous tale of a coyote. She draws the images digitally, since she said hand drawing on the wall in Sharpie has proven to be stressful. Feddersen adapts each story behind the Coyote image, and this time she says she wanted to bring Coyote’s story into the 21st century by including technology, environmental and political issues.
“Indigenous culture treats art much differently than the Western perspective, where you might put a work of art up on a pedestal that’s not to be touched and exclusively for the wealthy,” Feddersen said at the exhibit’s grand opening. “One way that I transposed that from my own perspective is making art that can be touched, and can bring community together, something that isn’t merely a piece on the wall. Its art is happening when people are working on it, and after that it’ll just come down.”
The epic story of Coyote is a North American indigenous oral folk tale based around the idea that Coyote can be reincarnated as long as there is a piece of him remaining; a whisker, scrap of fur or bone. In that way, Coyote is immortal. A fox has to jump over his remains five or three times (depending on the version of the story) to bring him back to life, like a Coyote-Beetlejuice hybrid. Feel free to stand there and scream “Coyote, Coyote, Coyote!” or just pick up one of the crayons that Feddersen has cast from real coyote bones to metaphorically bring him back to life.
“One thing that Coyote does is show us why things are unfair, why the land and structures are the way they are, he exemplifies our bad behavior so that we can choose to do better, and he causes and creates calamities,” Feddersen says.
But the images need explanation, the busy walls are all-consuming, especially with the variety of colors, sketches, and various stories within the piece. Coyote’s story begins on the left, where he is reborn on a nuclear reservation. He proceeds to get into a fight with his wife, a mole, and tries to eat her. She tunnels into the ground and causes a sinkhole. “It’s not fracking,” Feddersen explains. “It’s Coyote and Mole fighting.” As the exhibition continues, Coyote goes on to visit a sweat lodge, get fired from his day job, and get hunted down by the FBI.
“After he gets fired he goes on Reddit to look for jobs and finds a forum where he can promote certain social media posts to make money through, basically the Russian government,” Feddersen says.
Months later, what was once a perfect casting of neon-hued crayons has turned into a pile of fingernail-sized pebbles—evidence of the amount of people that have lent their own hand to the Coyote legacy. The blank slate has become much more than a mere coloring project; from a smattering of political commentary to commemorative initials in hearts, it’s a living representation of individual creativity and modern-day society.
There are green buffalos, purple trees and rainbow clouds. Between the scrawlings of “Obey Corporate Greed,” a capitalism tractor and “The Millers Were Here,” the wall is completely filled from ceiling to floor. Coyote dies in Bears Ears National Monument when he is crushed by an oil drilling derrick—a relevant nod to the fact that Bears Ears is set to be reduced by 85 percent for oil drilling under the Trump administration. Luckily, the pile of crayon-pebbles ensures that, despite his misfortune, Coyote will return again.
Coyote Now is on display through Wednesday, October 21. Museum of Art and History. 705 Front St., Santa Cruz. 429-1964. santacruzmah.org. $10 general admission, $8 students, free on First Fridays.