Neon has been in use an artistic medium for decades, but there’s something about it that seems perpetually of the “now.” Its glow makes it feel like a living thing, and the low hum it gives off could be friendly or threatening. The blue-green quality of neon light conjures a feeling of Americana and a gritty futurist sensation at the same time. Jaque Fragua bends this culturally loaded medium to his will in a series of provocative sculptures that illuminate the walls and windows of form & concept. Fragua’s neon creations parody the kitsch of curio shops and critique the appropriation of Native American aesthetics with biting wit. Crave reported on Fragua’s early influences in a profile last year:
From humble beginnings and a large family, Fragua grew up in an adobe house on Jemez Pueblo, about an hour northwest of Albuquerque. He began painting ceremonial objects for dances and cultural rituals in his youth. As an adolescent, he attended high school in Denver, and got into graffiti (along with some trouble). Formal training at the Institute of the American Indian Arts in Santa Fe followed.
Pre-Internet, the mainstream public didn’t know what was happening on reservations or in contemporary Native culture; Fragua saw an opportunity to use his experiences as the basis for his body of work. “I felt like the art I was interested in making could be a conduit for dialogue and to spread that awareness,” he says.
Fragua discussed the experience of moving through the world as a Native artist with Santa Fe Reporter in 2015:
The reality is that it is twice as oppressive as being just a Native person. I feel like there’s so much pressure on young Native people to rise to a certain occasion or level of being or just adulthood…I don’t know what it is, but there’s all this pressure to be something that I don’t feel like we’re necessarily meant to be. It might be capturing the American Dream, or go to college and get your master’s in oil engineering, and there’s these things that our parents or the generation before have been trained or conditioned to do for so many years. Now, I feel like because we’re in a current state of society [where] people are having difficulty deciding what exactly they want to do, with that comes more pressure.
VICE‘s Creators Project touched on Fragua’s recent activist work in an article late last year:
The artistic abilities Fragua honed with graffiti eventually pushed him toward activist endeavors. “I came into the social justice sector by accident. A friend of mine asked me to help him make a banner for a specific Native organization fighting for water rights in Northern Arizona. This was 2007. Since then, I have been creating art every year for different indigenous campaigns and struggles, separate from the art I create for myself.” This past summer, Fragua traveled to North Dakota to help fight the Dakota Access Pipeline. “Part of my role there was to educate about art as a visual communication through non-violent direct action. The banner was created for an action that was deployed the morning after I arrived,” says Fragua.
Visit Jaque Fragua’s artist page to learn more about his work.