Melanie Yazzie works a wide range of media that include printmaking, painting, sculpting, and ceramics, as well as installation art. Her art is accessible to the public on many levels and the main focus is on connecting with people and educating people about the contemporary status of one indigenous woman and hoping that people can learn from her experience.
Her subject matter is significant because the serious undertones reference native post-colonial dilemmas. Her work often brings images of women from many indigenous cultures to the forefront. Thus her work references matrilineal systems and points to the possibility of female leadership. There are many layers to the works and with in the story layers many discover that our history is varied and deep. It is made clear that there are many indigenous peoples in the world and we all have different stories and it sometimes has a sad connection to main stream society. Often misunderstood and overlooked are the ways in which we can all learn from each other and make a better world.
A recurring motif in Yazzie's work has been Blue Bird flour sacks, which provided clothing material to many people during their childhoods. The flour sacks are also known to be used for table cloths, food protection, curtains in hogan homes. The Blue Bird flour sacks are an essential icon from Yazzie's childhood. They serve as a connection to her grandparents and also a connection to memories of butchering sheep, a time honored event with her family while growing up.
Yazzie is known for her multilayered monotypes that focus on storytelling and reflect her dreamtime friends and companions. The works are filled with colors and textures that reflect different world. The works are made with stencils and often she is printing with soy based inks called Akua inks that are safe for the artist and the environment. The works most often are printed on Arches 88 due to the absorbing quality of that 100% rag paper. It is a fine art paper made in France and very soft to the touch. It is a paper designed originally for screenprinting but is the perfect surface for many of the works Yazzie creates. The works often are monotypes as opposed to monoprints. So the works are a one of a kind work of art and not made in multiples. The monotypes are often what she creates on travels to various printmaking studios worldwide in which she shares these techniques and sometimes collaborates with other indigenous artists world wide.
Yazzie has led over 100 international print exchanges over a 20-year time period. Many of these exchanges include artists from Siberia, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Mexico, and Germany. These international print exchanges examine many issues relevant our current day societies and the invited artists are asked to respond to the issues or themes in making their work for a these exchanges. These projects are community building events that help people connect over large distances and often they are also used as teaching tools in art studios across the globe. Some of the projects are held in the Artist Printmaker Research Collection at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, TX. It is an excellent resource for researching many artists in the contemporary printmaking scene. Website: http://artistprintmakerresearchcollection.org/tag/peter-briggs/ Other projects can be seen by visiting the University of Colorado at Boulder Special Collections located in the university library.You many make an appointment to see some of these amazing projects through this website: https://ucblibraries.colorado.edu/specialcollections/
In addition to teaching at the Institute of American Indian Arts, the College of Santa Fe (now Santa Fe University of Art and Design), Boise State University, and the University of Arizona, Yazzie taught at the Pont Aven School of Contemporary Art in France.
A selection of major exhibitions from the 1990s to present include “Between Two Worlds” (2008) at Arizona State University, "Traveling" at the Heard West Museum (2006), "About Face: Self-Portraits by Native American, First Nations, and Inuit Artists" at the Wheelwright Museum (2005), "Making Connections" (2002) in Bulova, Russia, "Navajo in Gisborne" (1999) in Gisborne, New Zealand and "Watchful Eyes" (1994) at the Heard Museum.
She is a Professor and Head of Printmaking at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She teaches printmaking courses and travels extensively to indigenous communities within the United States and abroad. She can always be found through the University of Colorado Art and Art History Department.
She is included in books by Zena Pearlstone (About Face), Lucy Lippard (The Lure of the Local) and Jackson Rushing (Native American Art in the Twentieth Century), and collected nationally and internationally in private and public collections.
On September 2013 she co-curated the exhibition "Heart Lines: Expressions of Native North American Art" in Colorado University Art Museum, partially based on her private collection and including her work "Pollen Girl".
In February 2014 she opened the largest retrospective of her work in 20 years at the University of New Mexico Art Museum titled Geographies of Memory curated by Lisa Tamiris Becker, Director of the UNM Art Museum. The exhibit ran through May 2014. A beautiful catalogue was published for the exhibition.
- Bill, Amber. "Artist Bios." C.N. Gorman Museum (retrieved 17 Jan 09)
- "Holding the Truth: Reflections of a Navajo Artist" WGBH Forum Network. (Retrieved 17 Jan 09)
- "Melanie Yazzie : geographies of memory". Worldcat. OCLC. Retrieved 3 February 2015.