Diné artist Zachariah Ben uses sand and pigments made out of crushed minerals and stones, including chrysocolla and gypsum, to create sandpaintings that tell stories and reinterpret the universe.
“Íikáh’ Dííyííníí: Sacred Sands” is a solo show opening at Ellsworth Gallery on December 15 that features new paintings by 21-year old Ben, who is training to become a Navajo Medicine Man.
“I use ritualistic designs to make contemporary pieces, but I don’t use these designs in exactly the same ways they are used in rituals so a deity is not fixed into a piece,” explains Ben.
“The entire process is a ritual for me. I say prayers every morning before I work with sand that I have gathered and pigments that I have ground from a variety of stones. I use colors to tell the stories.”
Ben has been working with sand since he was a toddler, touching it and breathing in its smell in his father’s studio. He made his first ceremonial sandpainting when he was five years old, at the request of a tribal Medicine Man, and remembers it as a scary experience. “I was freaked out at first,” he recalls. “My dad (artist and Medicine Man Joe Ben Jr.) showed me what to do.”
For as long as Ben can remember, he has wanted to heal people. As he continues on that journey, he also focuses his energy into imbuing his feelings and ideas about nature into his sandpaintings.
“I will be showing about 10 paintings that have been created during the past couple of months,” he says. “I want to thank Ellsworth Gallery for letting me show them.”
Ben explains his sandpainting process during three demonstrations at the gallery on December 27, 28 and 29.