Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

September 18, 2021

Dine' Weaver Jane Benale's Weaving: The Radioactive Uranium Dust Came Home from Mines on Clothes

Image: Ann Collier, Kim Hahn (Korean), Jane Benale (Diné), Malcom Benally (Diné) , When They Came Home, 2017, Clothing: dyed wool, silver, turquois, cotton, silk organza. Photo by Chelsea Darter.

By Institute of American Indian Arts 
Museum of Contemporary Arts
Censored News

During the Cold War through 1986, mainly men, working in the mines came home with their clothes tarnished by yellow toxic dust from the uranium. The uranium dust stayed in their homes. This installation represents the ways that uranium contamination has affected the lives of women and the earth. The garment is inspired by customary Navajo clothing.

Jane Benale has experienced the personal trauma of uranium toxicity in her family and on her land. In consultation with Benale’s son, Navajo writer Malcolm Benally, Ann Collier dyed wool in colors that represented important elements in Navajo life. Wool was chosen as a medium because of the significance of sheep in Navajo daily life and ceremonies.

Benale then created a weaving - a prayer for the stories to be told, as the very fabric of her life changed because of uranium toxicity. Inspired by Benale’s weaving, Kim Hahn created a design, which she printed on silk organza fabric. Collier then used the silk organza printed images to create nuno felt yardage which harmonized with Benale’s rug. Hahn used this felt fabric to design a skirt and cape, inspired by both contemporary and traditional Navajo garment style and infused with all the design elements. Then Collier and Hahn designed a striped textile pattern printed on 100% cotton chambray, hand cut the fabric into ½” width strips and hand wove them together based on a Navajo weaving pattern.

They also developed an organza shroud, using green-yellow irradiated color to illustrate the uranium pollution spilling onto the body. Collier’s felt necklace is inspired by Navajo squash blossom turquoise necklaces.

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