Saturday, May 15, 2010

This Is Arizona: Shadow Puppets

Photos by A.C. Huestis. Click for bigger!

First of all, it's Sparklesibling Andrew's birthday today, so I'd like to acknowledge again his contributions to this site. His series of photographs of Tucson and environs have perfectly captured both the peculiar beauty and oddly persistent bleakness of Arizona.

Unlike previous photos in this series, I actually requested a specific subject from Andrew in this case: the awful Kokopelli, who began his life as an ancient Pueblo Indian deity and has now devolved into a cutesy, ubiquitous Southwestern™ design motif. In a way, I regret my request, because Andrew's photos of this particularly egregious Kokopelli are almost more beautiful and dramatic than they have any right to be:

What interests me isn't so much the hated Kokopelli, but a particular affectation which is a hallmark of Southwestern kitsch: the silhouette. The motifs change over time, but there is a constant, constant use of the silhouette; you see it everywhere, all the time. I remember in the 1970s, the most commonly used silhouettes were that of the roadrunner (typical example here) and the saguaro, still perennial favorites. In the 80s, the big star was the coyote (neckerchief optional) howling at the moon (fantastic example here). I think Kokopelli's fame starting rising dramatically in the 90s, as did the petroglyph-like spiral. There almost seems to be a law that all new restaurants in Phoenix and Tucson must incorporate decorative metalwork silhouette motifs in some fashion.

But anyway, Kokopelli, unfortunately, is here to stay:


HRH King Friday XIII, Ret. said...

Uh, I hear ya Princess.

Personally, I'd like to see Kokopelli torn to peices by a wild pack of neckerchiefed coyotes.

Karen Zipdrive said...

I once met a nice lady.
Then I learned her e-mail addy included the name Kokopelli and I had to walk away.
There's just some shit one should not have to tolerate.

rdale said...

And the modern design element leaves off what the symbol originally represented: a fertility deity. I've seen plenty of 1000-year old kokopelli petroglyphs and they all have something you don't see on the menu at a chic cafe in Sedona: a tumescent penis.

Lesley said...

Sadly Mr. Koko is used here in NM as a tourist novelty item too. People from other places especially like to buy jewelry and other things with Mr. Koko and they somehow think that is being "spiritual" in a native american way.

Anonymous said...

I'm from Albuquerque and, sadly to say, these are our icons.

I guess it's a combination of petroglyphs, navajo rug patterns, and the flattening effect of the setting sun, but we do deal with a lot of silhouette art here.

And don't get me going about the "spiritual" value of all this kitsch!

bleepykins said...

Isn't the thing everyone here hates the same thing in reverse that makes the Nancy strips work so well? Simple etc..? just askin'... (I dont care for K. either)