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Contemporary Indigenous Art

Contemporary art flourishes in Albuquerque, where local artists display their work on murals, at gallery installations and in museum exhibitions. For contemporary Indigenous artist Michael Toya, even the exterior of a hotel can become a canvas. His artwork wraps the five-story Nativo Lodge along the North I-25 corridor in Albuquerque, not far from Balloon Fiesta Park. Michael’s designs also bring whimsy and beauty to one of Visit Albuquerque’s train wraps on the Denver Light Rail system.

An image of a Denver light rail train wrapped in a contemporary Native American art image

Michael is a self-taught artist who incorporates traditional elements from his Jemez Pueblo heritage into contemporary scenes. His design for the train wrap is full of life. The hummingbirds, butterflies, dragonflies, ladybugs and bees are spiritual symbols that pay respect to Mother Nature. In the center of the design is a Pueblo sunface symbol, an icon found in many Pueblo cultures. The diagonal lines around the sun symbolize rain and sustenance, and the lightning bolts surrounding the rain represent strength. Together, the design shows how all living creatures take energy and sustenance from the skies and the earth, joining harmoniously in the circle of life.

With his contemporary interpretation of Pueblo designs, Michael honors his culture while also protecting it. Many traditional Pueblo images are sacred and therefore forbidden to show outside of the Pueblo. Instead, the symbols are preserved to keep the culture strong as it passes from generation to generation. “I am able to create my own twist to the story in my art, but it is still representational of my culture,” Michael explains.

Michael is most famous for his acrylic paintings that creatively mash up pop culture and traditional culture, such as depicting “Star Wars” heroes with Pueblo symbolism. His art will be displayed on the Denver Light Rail system through January 2024. Find more of Michael’s work on Instagram @toyamichael.

Other examples of contemporary Indigenous art can be found at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque, where the temporary exhibits and the Artists Circle Gallery display the living arts of the Pueblos. Contemporary and modern art is showcased at many other Albuquerque venues, including:

Visit Albuquerque wrapped trains on the Denver Light Rail System with five authentically Albuquerque designs. To read more about the project, click here.