Art & Art History ETDs

Publication Date

Summer 5-17-2020


James “Chip” “Jetsonorama” Thomas is an Indian Health Services physician who moved to the Navajo Nation in 1987. Although he is not culturally Native American, Thomas depicts Navajo in large-scale black and white photographic murals. His work has been discussed in online articles and books about street art in terms of their relationship to street art, specifically the art of JR, as well as their role as activist art on the Navajo Nation. There has been a lack of substantial research, though, into the way in which his photographic murals respond to or engage with nineteenth and twentieth-century photographs of Native Americans that were utilized to substantiate the erasure of Native American peoples and culture fueled by Anglo-American imperialism. In this thesis, I explore this and another important context for his murals, the work of contemporary Navajo photographers.

I examine the ways in which Thomas’ murals act as an extension of his medical practice on the Navajo Nation by discussing issues such as uranium mining and its health effects and the protection of sacred sites. Unlike nineteenth and twentieth-century photographic depictions of Navajo that sought to present them as a “vanishing race,” Thomas’ murals are intended to represent the persistence of Diné. It is instead, his murals that are ephemeral and disappear over time as they alter with the surrounding landscape. His murals are predominantly placed on and around the Navajo reservation so that his images are shared with the people who originally allowed him to photograph them.

Document Type


Degree Name


Level of Degree


Department Name

UNM Department of Art and Art History

First Committee Member (Chair)

Kevin Mulhearn

Second Committee Member

Kirsten Buick

Third Committee Member

Aaron Fry

Fourth Committee Member

Devorah Romanek


mural, street art, photography, Navajo, Chip Thomas