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Carmen Selam

Carmen Selam, the artist in residence for Risolana -- a risograph printing studio in Albuquerque on July 18.

Carmen Selam plays with pinks, printmaking and Polly Pockets

Utilizing a variety of mediums and the color pink, Carmen Selam uses pop-culture references and specific colors to amplify themes of Indigeneity and Queerness in her artwork.

Currently, she is experimenting with risograph printmaking to create a zine titled “Resbians,” a combination of the words “lesbians” and “reservation.” Selam is Yakama and Comanche, and said she finds herself incorporating those two identities throughout her artwork. She calls herself “Yakamanche” – a combination of the two.

Selam started calling herself an artist when she moved to Santa Fe in 2011 to attend the Institute of American Indian Arts. Many people describe her work as pop art, Selam said. Santa Fe introduced Selam to the contemporary art market and she began to contextualize her work in the Native art canon.

“I think my art is traditional in the sense that I'm very rooted in where I'm from, so on my reservation. But it's also contemporary in the sense that I'm a Native person existing now,” Selam said.

Tackling gender and identity, Selam finished her Master of Fine Arts show titled “Switch Dance” at the IAIA. The term “switch dance” refers to a practice in powwows where you wear regalia of the opposite gender, Selam said. Selam used to switch dance with her brother.

“It was a lot about grief protocols and my relationship with my late brother … That was really about honoring that relationship, honoring that space and redefining what it means in a contemporary society as a Yakama Comanche woman,” Selam said.

The MFA show was emotionally charged, and for the rest of the summer, Selam said she is focused on having fun. She was chosen as the artist-in-residence at Risolana – a community risograph studio and nonprofit.

Through the program, artists are able to pick one ink color to add to Risolana’s collection. Selam picked a mauve-pink – a color that represents a ‘90s kid’s nostalgia and was present in many of her past paintings, Selam said.

“Inside of (one of my) painting(s) is imagery of a Polly Pocket, but it represents things on a reservation within it. The background for that painting was a light mauve-pink. As soon as I saw that color as an option, I was like, ‘This is the one, this is the color,’”  Selam said.

Selam is using the pink to amplify femininity throughout her zine, both the lack and presence of it. The color each artist-in-residence picks has become an important aspect of Risolana’s program, Michael López – Risolana co-founder – said.

“As a community space – for us to be able to have an artist come in and have color that resonates to them – hopefully that ripples out and that resonates with other people … Carmen settled on that (mauve-pink) and honestly, that's not a color I would've necessarily chosen. I think that's the beauty of it. It's hyper personal,” López said.

The Risolana staff is working with Selam to create her zine that will be sold this fall along with in-progress prints – an aspect that allows the community to learn more about the risograph printing process, López said. López said that he admires Selam’s commitment to her story.

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“She's being very systematic about it with a very strong sense of soul to what she's connecting to – the story that she wants to tell,” López said.

Her zine is set on the reservation and follows the life a non-binary protagonist, Eli, as they navigate their love life. Selam’s comic book idea and passion for her story allowed her to get the position.

“The idea of this comic book that Carmen wants to share back out to people on the (reservation) – that felt like there's an audience that Carmen's directly wanting to speak to.

And the idea of a comic is something that we've been really excited about as a space,” López said.

It is important for her, Selam said, to produce art and media that is respectful and representative of where she comes from. She works with youth on her reservation and wants to make a safe space for them by representing herself as a Queer person.

“I've never really been in the closet, but I've never been quite this out … It's okay to exist. I think existing in these spaces unapologetically has been a huge part of my work now within the past three or four years. (Saying) ‘I'm a Queer artist’ – I think it's an important thing to know,” Selam said.

Addison Key is the culture editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at culture@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @addisonkey11.


Addison Key

Addison Key is a senior reporter at the Daily Lobo and served as the Summer 2023 culture editor. She can be reached on Twitter @addisonkey11. 

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