Sands of time: Artist Zachariah Ben

Michael Abatemarco, Pasatiempo, December 22, 2017

Diné singers, or medicine men, have many healing ceremonies, including one known as the Yeii Bichei or Night Chant. Part of the nine-day medicinal ceremony includes the ritual personification of paternal or grandfather gods — with the figure known as Talking God, an interlocutor between ancestral deities and humans, being chief among them. Diné singers apprentice under their elders, sometimes for their entire lives, to learn the complicated and intensive blessing ceremonies such as the Yeii Bichei. So it is for artist Zachariah Ben, who has been studying under the tutelage of his father. “I came about to be a good artist because my dad Joe Ben Jr. taught me my culture, my ways, ever since I was a little baby,” Ben says in an artist statement. Currently on view at Ellsworth Gallery are a series of original sand paintings by Ben that combine his traditional knowledge with a contemporary vision.

Ben has been showing at Ellsworth’s annual Indian Market show, Creative Nation, for the past two years. His current exhibition, Íikáh’ Dííyííníí: Sacred Sands, is on view at the gallery through Jan. 14 (there is a 5 p.m. reception on Friday, Dec. 22) and includes the artist’s demonstrations of his sand-painting techniques. The first one begins at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 27, with two more following at 2 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 28, and Friday, Dec. 29. Ben will be giving his demonstrations until the gallery closes, at 5 p.m. It’s a rare opportunity to see this unique form of sacred Diné knowledge in practice. Ellsworth is at 215 E. Palace Ave. Call 505-989-7900 for more information.