Photography and text by Eugene Tapahe
Before the COVID-19 pandemic started, this was supposed to be my year to make an impact in the art world. I had a successful art show at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Ariz. and was excited because this year I was accepted into more art shows than ever before.
A few months went by, one by one, art shows cancelled because of COVID-19. The self-distancing and quarantine made my partial-hearing loss and depression even worse. I didn't know what to do. I felt broken. Then I had a dream.
I was sitting in a grass field at Yellowstone National Park watching the bison graze on the horizon as the sun set. And then, slowly in the distance, I heard the healing sound of jingles. One by one, beautiful jingle dress dancers appeared. It was as if they were dancing with the bison to the rhythm of a silent drum.
It was beautiful and peaceful.
When I awoke I felt it in my heart, this was more than a dream. I couldn't deny it. I wanted to deny it because it seemed impossible to obtain, especially during this uncertain time of the COVID-19 pandemic and the turmoil of the racial and political differences in the world.
As I retold the dream to my family, they could feel it too. We knew this had to happen. We started the project with little money and lots of faith and hope it would work. It had to.
"Art Heals: The Jingle Dress Project" was born. My dream was to take the healing power of the Ojibwa jingle dress to the land, to travel, to dance and capture a series of images to document the spiritual places our ancestors once walked. And to unite and give hope to the world through art, dance and culture to help us heal together.
On the first photo shoot, Dion, Erin, JoAnni, Sunni and I learned how to work together. They weren't models. I wasn't a portrait photographer. It was awkward, frustrating and new. But, from the moment they started to jingle dance on the land, it all changed. I felt what I felt in my dream: beauty and peace.
I cried. I could feel myself healing from the uncertainties of the world -- time slowed down. As I listened to the jingles, I knew I was where I was supposed to be. I was doing what I was supposed to do and no matter how difficult this project would be, it needed to be done.
Four months later, the project is bigger than I imagined. The support, the love and the encouragement from all over the world has been inspirational. It has motivated Dion, Erin, JoAnni, Sunni and me through our trials and difficulties while traveling on our photo shoots. It has been beautiful, emotional, empowering and most importantly, healing. It has changed our lives for the better.
I don't know where this project will go from here, but I know it will be beautiful -- because my family will always be a part of it. As my daughter so eloquently said, "Daddy, you're not in this to make money or get rich, you're in it to change the world."
I have, my world is so much happier and fulfilling because of this project -- keep dreaming because dreams do come true.
To support the Jingle Dress project, visit tapahe.com.