“Portraits in RED, Missing and Murdered Indigenous People Painting Project”
Nayana LaFond is an artist and Artivist living and working in western Massachusetts with her daughter. Nayana has also been a curator for over 15 years including as chief curator for the Whitney Center for the Arts. She sits on several boards including Artist Organized Art, Advisory member for the Native Youth Empowerment Fund, Advisory/Committee member for Be The Change Boston as well as others. Nayana has published articles on art and culture, designed the cover for a makeup pallet that is sold to raise money for battered women’s shelters and is coming out with a skateboard deck to raise awareness about MMIWG/P in the spring of 2022. Part of her series “Portraits in RED” will be going on tour through the Emerson Museum starting in 2022 and going until 2025 and a sculpture she is creating to raise awareness about Domestic Violence will be installed at Fenway in Boston in May of 2022 Nayana works in many different media but is best known for her acrylic on canvas paintings,
Art has always been a means of therapeutic release. Through a unique and difficult life, art has always been my constant. I had been working on a body of work in response to covid from my perspective as a leukemia and bone marrow transplant survivor when I stumbled into doing the MMIWG/P painting project. May 5 2020 I was quarantined and scrolling a Facebook group called Social Distance Powwow when I saw people posting images in support of the missing and murdered indigenous peoples crisis. My own experience as a survivor of DV inspired me to reach out to one of the women who had done a makeup look and shared it. I asked her if I could paint her for my own catharsis and to share with the group. She agreed and the first painting was done. I never intended this to become a project. It was a natural transition for me to express my emotions about DV through art but I did not anticipate the response I would receive when I shared the finished painting back to the Facebook group which inspired it. Overnight the painting of “Lauraina in RED” went viral in the group. The next day I decided to paint just one more and reached out to another person and painted her and her daughter. (Natahne & Yana in RED) The response to that second piece was even more significant than the first and so I decided to make a post inviting anyone else who would like them or their loved one painted to feel free to contact me. Again I did not anticipate the response I would get. I received over 25 messages on the first day with images and stories from survivors, families of victims, and those who were actively fighting to raise awareness and change things. Then I knew I needed to paint them all. I could not pick and choose who to paint. Each painting is done on a Livestream. Families continue to reach out to me every day and as of January 2022, I have completed over 70 portraits of missing, murdered, survivors, family members, and activists to raise awareness. Early on I realized it would be wrong for me to accept money from the families and victims who contact me. So it became a project to raise awareness. I now paint the painting for free for the families and donate prints to them in any amount they want or need. The originals are then exhibited in shows like this one to raise awareness about MMIWG/P and to spark discussion and change.
Indigenous women and girls are 11 times more likely to be the victims of violence in their lifetime than any other demographic. Indigenous men are 4 times more likely. 3 in 4 indigenous people experience sexual assault in their lifetime. The most disturbing part is that there is only a 6% prosecution rate and most cases are under-prosecuted if they are prosecuted at all. These are the numbers that are being reported, there are so many more who are not or who are misclassified. The majority of perpetrators of these crimes are non-indigenous and this is happening both on and off the reservations and all over the United States and Canada. The US and Canadian Governments have done very little so far to address these issues and most of the cases go unsolved and are often uninvestigated to this day.
Through doing this work I hope to spark discussion and inspire a movement toward effective change. It has also served as medicine for myself and for those I paint and their families. Indigenous peoples have a deep belief that many things are medicine and art can be medicine as well. This may be the medicine someone needs to inspire them to leave or avoid a dangerous situation or to make their own “medicine” for social change. The catharsis I receive by doing the work is enough to keep me painting everyone who sends me an image and I have dedicated myself to doing so. There is no end in sight for this project as every day people are going missing and being murdered.