Sandpainting is the art of pouring colored sands, powdered pigments from minerals or crystals, and pigments from other natural or synthetic sources onto a surface to make a fixed, or unfixed sand painting. Unfixed sand paintings have a long established cultural history in numerous social groupings around the globe, and are often temporary, ritual paintings prepared for religious or healing ceremonies. It is also referred to as drypainting.
Drypainting is practiced by Native Americans in the Southwestern United States, by Tibetan and Buddhist monks, as well as Australian Aborigines, and also by Latin Americans on certain Christian holy days.
In the sandpainting of southwestern Native Americans (the most famous of which are the Navajo (known as the Diné)), the Medicine Man (or Hatałii) paints loosely upon the ground of a hogan, where the ceremony takes place, or on abuckskin or cloth tarpaulin, by letting the coloured sands flow through his fingers with control and skill. There are 600 to 1,000 different traditional designs for sandpaintings known to the Navajo. They do not view the paintings as static objects, but as spiritual, living beings to be treated with great respect. More than 30 different sandpaintings may be associated with one ceremony.
The colors for the painting are usually accomplished with naturally coloured sand, crushed gypsum (white), yellow ochre, red sandstone, charcoal and a mixture of charcoal and gypsum (blue). Brown can be made by mixing red and black; red and white make pink. Other colouring agents include corn meal, flower pollen, or powdered roots and bark.
The paintings are for healing purposes only. Many of them contain images ofYeibicheii (the Holy People). While creating the painting, the medicine man willchant, asking the yeibicheii to come into the painting and help heal the patient.
When the medicine man finishes painting, he checks its accuracy. The order and symmetry of the painting symbolize the harmony which a patient wishes to reestablish in his or her life. The accuracy of a sandpainting is believed to determine its efficacy as a sacred tool. The patient will be asked to sit on the sandpainting as the medicine man proceeds with the healing chant. It is claimed the sandpainting acts as a portal to attract the spirits and allow them to come and go. Practitioners believe sitting on the sandpainting helps the patient to absorb spiritual power, while in turn the Holy People will absorb the illness and take it away. Afterward, when the sandpainting has done its duty, it is considered to be toxic, since it has absorbed the illness. For this reason, the painting is destroyed. Because of the sacred nature of the ceremonies, the sandpaintings are begun, finished, used and destroyed within 12 hours.