Crossing Thresholds: O’otham Artists Create Art at NASCAR in Honor of Native American Heritage Month
Gila River Indian News
Indigenous artists are continuously crossing the threshold into spaces where Indigenous people aren’t commonly heard or seen. For one GRIC artist, a recent collaboration with NASCAR is proving that Indigenous representation can thrive in the world of motor sports.
Two O’otham artists displayed their Indigenous roots for NASCAR in honor of Native American Heritage Month back in November of 2023. Community artist Paul Molina, from District 7, participated in the painted car hood project, giving birth to the painted car hood piece, “Spirit of the Land,’’ on November 5, 2023 at the Phoenix Raceway along with Tohono O’odham artist Paul “Nox” Pablo.
“NASCAR wasn’t really on top of the lists of businesses I was expecting to work with but surprisingly enough, they reached out to me and another artist; one from Gila River, me, and another artist from the Tohono O’odham Nation,” said Molina in an interview with the GRIN.
Molina explained that NASCAR found him after Googling “Native American artists in Arizona.” They liked his work and reached out to Molina via Instagram. From there he was included for the 72nd year anniversary as a live art exhibit feature - working on the project of a car hood in front of many car racing fanatics.
“My design process for this particular project was just overall expressing who I am as an Indigenous male. And coming from Gila River, I wanted to incorporate that, but also, I didn’t want to tell a story that we were not supposed to tell. I wanted to give the viewers a taste of who Gila River is, and kind of what we are about,” said Molina.
“Spirit of the Land” depicts images containing a significant meaning for Indigenous people: A hawk that plays the role of a messenger between the physical world and the spiritual world, the mountains depicting the Sierra Estrellas of the westend, a young woman representing the future generations to arrive, and tobacco for blessings and spirit. Lastly, the feature of the 72nd NASCAR diamond was also painted onto the hood.
Molina said that this particular art piece was meaningful to him because it was influenced by his close relatives. He used acrylic paint with crystal medium textures, and molding putty to emphasize the wings of the hawk in the light. Molina spent three days and 10 hours in total to complete the project.
The “Spirit of the Land” car hood painting project is housed at the Phoenix Raceway in Avondale. Paul “Nox” Pablo’s creation, “Play to win, all or nothing” connected Tohono O’odham games and stories of the spirit of fast movement in relation to the sport of NASCAR.