Thursday, June 20, 2013

(Unintentionally) Disrespectful Art

I just sent the following email to the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) regarding the Art Work by the 1-10/Prince Exit in Tucson:

I drive past the new section of the freeway by I-10 and Prince every morning, on my way to work.  I'm Tohono O'odham and I was very interested to see that there is what I thought was a Tohono O'odham Basket Dancer, but which is listed as a Basket Weaver on the ADOT website. Aside from it deviating from the theme of the other panels (a folklorico dancer, a mariachi musician and a ceremonial, Yaqui deer dancer) I've spotted a very, very, embarrassing issue that I hope can be immediately addressed. 

The Basket Weaver's image is larger than the other panels, and there is a drainage pipe placed very unfortunately between the woman's thighs.  It is clearly visible from the freeway, and as soon as the monsoons come and there is an actual NEED for the drainage pipe due to rainwater, I believe that it will appear that this woman is peeing. 

I am assuming that the image of the basket weaver was chosen to honor the Tohono O'odham people, so I am sure that you will be as horrified as I am, knowing that the elder in the image is unintentionally being disrespected. 

I am requesting that you either move the drainage pipe off the woman's image or you replace the image accordingly. 

Thank you.

-------------- (End of Email to ADOT) ------------------

My thoughts:

At first, I thought this was a basketdancer, which fit into a theme that I thought was music and dancing, but their website listed this image as "Basket Woman" but is described in text above the image as "a Tohono O'odham basket weaver".  In the picture, she is clearly using both hands to hold the basket, and isn't in the act of weaving.

You can view all four of the images that will be used in this project at:

Do you remember the song from Sesame Street about things that "aren't like the others"

"One of these things is not like the other,
one of these things just doesn't belong,
Can you tell which this is not like the others
By the time I finish my song?"

Sesame Street used to use shapes or colors.  ADOT used an image of a woman who looks sad to even be there. 

 Photo taken from the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) website:

ADOT says they had an Open to the Public meeting where these images were presented and supported. However, if you are using the representation of a specific people or tribe, how much effort is made to ensure that it is culturally appropriate? Were Tribal members specifically invited to this meeting? Or was it simply a roomful of people who didn't have anything better to do that day and honestly, could have been choosing between cacti and coyotes.

I think if you're using people, especially images that represent an entire tribe or group of people, an extra effort needs to be made.

Aren't there cultural consultants? In a state where there are 21 federally recognized tribes, where 27% of Arizona lands are considered "Indian Lands", isn't there a dude somewhere who calls people up and says, "Hey, we're thinking of using this piece of art in our next project, it's of an O'odham basket weaver, can I email you the photo so you can tell me what you think?"

The Tohono O'odham Nation is just a phone call away.

Map of Arizona Tribal Lands
 Map taken from United States Environmental Protection Agency website
Arizona Tribal Lands and Reservations
Also, didn't the contruction workers who installed the drainage pipe realize it was inappropriately placed?  Did they find it funny? 
The more I think about this, the angrier I get. 
If any tribal members have an opinon about this project, want to send ADOT an email, make a phone call or have more information about the image being used? Does anyone know who the woman in the image is? Please let me know. 

If you're interested in contacting ADOT to share your opinions (even if they differ from mine), here is a link to their contact page:
You can also sign up for "weekly updates", which I already have, just in case they want to have another meeting where they have out-of-state retirees are choosing what the rest of the United States sees as they zoom through our state. 

----UPDATE: ----
I received these responses yesterday:
ADOT Response: Gabriella, The project team for the I-10 Ruthrauff Road to Prince Road project will patch up the area and paint it accordingly to match the design by end of day Friday, June 21. The location of the weep hole in each wall is at a specified spacing and the one for this particular wall was purely accidental. 
6/20/2013 2:06:34 PM
ADOT Response: Gabriella, The project team for the I-10 Ruthrauff Road to Prince Road project will patch up the area and paint it accordingly to match the design by end of day Friday, June 21. The location of the weep hole in each wall is at a specified spacing and the one for this particular wall was purely accidental. 
6/20/2013 2:05:52 PM
ADOT Response: Gabriella, Thank you for contacting the Arizona Department of Transportation. Your inquiry concerning the artwork and drainage pipe has been forwarded to the project team. We very much appreciate you taking the time to keep us informed. I will contact you with any information I receive. Regards, Rusty Crerand Constituent Services Officer ADOT Communications 
6/20/2013 11:26:14 AM

By 4pm, that same day, this issue was taken care of. 

I would like to thank the Arizona Department of Transportation for their prompt and swift actions and I hope in the future we can avoid any embarassing conversations like these.

I am glad that the basketweaver's image has been restored to its intended form. 

I also want to clarify that I am glad that Tohono O'odham imagery was used for public art. I always appreciate the acknowledgement and celebration of our people on none reservation land.  The O'odham have noticed and we're talking about it.  It means something to us.  It's special. 

My main issue was the unfortunate and unintended placing of the weep hole.

I would like to think the image is simply mislabeled on the ADOT website, and that this isn't just a weaver, but a basket dancer, (of course, I've never seen the original image the art was based on) but it fits the theme that I felt they were going for, either intentionally or unintentionally so I'll just let that woman dance with her basket, inside my head. 


  1. Hello:

    This is Kevin Keen, writing from KGUN9-TV. Would you mind giving me a call at 520-290-7700?

    Thank you.


  2. I don't know what the theme is supposed to be, but it seems to me that it's leaning towards art. The image of the basket weaver looks similar to a photograph from a book on basketry. The weaver was showcasing her finished basket for the photographer who was also the primary basket dealer on the reservation. I want to say she was from the Big Fields area, but I may be mistaken.