Nuclear contamination from abandoned uranium mines is rampant across the Navajo Nation, and a community of artists is raising awareness through a street art project and gallery exhibition.
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — A large-scale human rights violation is occurring in the United States, and there is a dearth of news coverage on the issue. Nuclear contamination from abandoned uranium mines is rampant across the Navajo Nation’s 27,000 square miles of land, throughout Utah, New Mexico and Arizona. This situation has left thousands of people without access to safe drinking water, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In response, a community of artists is raising awareness about the problem through a street art project and a gallery exhibition.
The Southwest has a legacy of uranium mining that has contaminated water, destroyed land, killed people and animals, and forced the government to pay billions in reparations. Abandoned mines and nuclear waste litter the area’s Indian reservation, yet only a fraction of the contaminated sites have proper warning signs. Fortunately, artists are using murals and billboards to alert the public to these hazards.
The Painted Desert Project is a street art collaboration that warns people of radioactive pollution in the area of the Navajo Nation, and is curated by Dr. Chip “Jetsonorama” Thomas. The artist (who has adopted the nickname “Jetsonorama”) is also a medical doctor who lives on the Indian reservation and treats people who have developed cancer and other health complications as a result of radioactive exposure. Jetsonorama’s art serves as a means of educating people about environmental injustices that deeply affect the Navajo Nation. He hopes that his artwork will encourage people to petition Congress and the federal government to clean up old mines and contaminated land and water.
As part of The Painted Desert Project, inside of a hut he had wheat-pasted, Jetsonorama hung a sign stating:
Welcome to #ThePaintedDesertProject. The photo … speaks to the land around this old pump house. Much of the land is contaminated with uranium. There’s >500 uncapped uranium mines on the rez. They affect this land, the water, animals + people. (Don’t linger in this room + don’t kick up dust.)