Colby Roanhorse

Written by Javier Jauregui

Sigmund Freud hypothesized that there are forces unknown to us, just out of our grasp that influence behavior and development. He argued that we are in a constant battle between the It (responsible for human desires and wants), Higher-than-I (a moral compass conceptualizing the person we should be), and the I (the conscious-self mediating between the It and Higher-than-I). In particular, Freud theorized that we are mostly aware of the I, slightly aware of the Higher-than-I, and completely unaware of the It. In other words, the unconsciousness mind are the combined pressures of the It and High-than-I; but how does this play a role in identity? Colby Roanhorse attempted to the connect the shadows of his conscious mind as a way to discover and heal.

Ma’ii So’ Yáyiighaz is a rendition of Navajo folklore and the tension between the conscious and unconscious. Roanhorse let intuition dictate the direction of his piece. He feels that planning can become a roadblock to discovery. Too much focus on a goal will ruin the process, the pleasures of reminiscing, the surprises that result from an uncharted journey. What kind of dreams, beliefs, emotions, or ideas will surface when one subjects themselves to intuition?


How does one even find a way to detach from the conscious mind?

Roanhorse cleansed himself of all thoughts, turned on some music, and began to paint. Ma’ii is the physical entity, a personification of his mind that is unknown to him. It was through his work that discoveries about himself were made, areas long forgotten or tucked away for one reason or another. As a result, Ma’ii is less about technique and more about emotions, about inspiration.

In some respects, the purpose of art is to think, to spark critical discussions that make us feel uneasy. In order to be comfortable with unsettling conversations, one must be at peace with the restlessness of our minds. That doesn’t mean we need to overcome our insecurities to converse critically, it doesn’t mean we have to be flawless. Instead, the focus is on recognizing parts of ourselves that we may not like, and to take steps to accept those aspects of our identity. To enjoy the process and be pleasantly surprised with what we uncover.


Taking inspiration from the Navajo story, “Ma’ii So’ Yáyiighaz”, Roanhorse finds a connection with one of the characters, Coyote. In the tale, Coyote sits with First Man, who is tasked with placing stars in the sky. First Man carefully planned what the night sky would look like. He was meticulous, gentle with his method. Coyote, mischievous and impatient, stole the bag of stars. In a moment of passion, Coyote releases the stars into the dark sky, creating disorder among the various constellations. Roanhorse’s work parallels Coyote’s instinctive character and mannerisms.

Inhibition is discarded, revealing the complex reality dwelling inside of us. The richness of our personality, what makes us happy, the troubles of our minds, the interesting parts that make us unique show themselves.

Four, long, paper drapes hang from above depicting his story. A lamb, which appears to be crying, inspecting the world from a far away island. Watching… watching and reflecting.


What has Roanhorse exposed? What kind of experiences were lurking just below the surface?

More importantly, how will his stream of unfiltered thoughts resonate with you? What kind of bridges will you form with Roanhorse’s ideas? How do does one even start?

Be like Ma’ii, the Coyote. Let go of the restless thoughts that may be occupying your mind. Let instinct take control, just for a moment. Close those eyes, listen to the music of the underserved. Let your mind wander with the lyrics, with the beat of the song. Search inward. Be bewildered.

Open your eyes.

What inner stars have been released?

Colby Roanhorse was born and raised on the Navajo Reservation. Colby’s work stems from existing in two worlds at once: the cultural and the contemporary. Having grown up in an impoverished area, he draws from difficult experiences with identity: racial, cultural, sexual and religious. Having been forced to question many aspects of self-identity, Colby works to sift through the chaos through art and design. Many of his works are meditative and are inspired by intuition and instinctive action. His work hopes to elicit emotional connection and introspection through the eyes of the viewer.


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