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Portraits of local children criticized

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Art works currently on display at College Clinic

A series of paintings of Gallup children praying which has been hanging in the College Clinic at Rehoboth McKinley Christian Hospital since September of 2019, became a source of contention in May.

Jacquelyn Cattaneo’s pastel portraits of local children of different races were hung at the clinic at the request of pediatricians there, who asked Judy Conejo, wife of then-CEO David Conejo, to get some artwork for the clinic that was comforting to children.

Judy Conejo was volunteering at the time and thought of Cattaneo, who agreed to display a series of 26 works at the clinic, as well as a single piece, Spirit Ascension, at the main hospital.

But in the spring of 2020, two doctors (only one of whom will be named here) allegedly approached the RMCH executive director and asked that the In Reverence series be taken down.

According to the executive director (who does not wish to be named) in both instances, one in May, and the second one in July, they complained that the paintings were “creepy, inappropriate and racist.”

Dr. Neil Jackson was one of the doctors who complained to the executive director in July. He told the Gallup Sun Aug. 5 that he had gotten a fair amount of feedback from patients expressing discomfort with the pictures in the series.

Jackson, who has been at RMCH since August 2019, said he has previously worked in the Peruvian Amazon, rural India and Malawi, indicated a couple of the pastels in the series were of particular concern to him in this day and age of political correctness.

He said he was troubled by two pieces in particular; one entitled, Please don’t let my daddy know and another called, Nizhoni.

He said Nizhoni has a blurb on it that reads, “I didn’t get their names. I slyly stole their photos. I’m glad I did.”

Jackson called that remark, “incredibly inappropriate.”

In his view the College Clinic should replace  the pastels of the children with natural landscapes.

Cattaneo said she didn’t understand the criticism . In an interview with the Gallup Sun, Aug. 5, she said she had never had this sort of negative reaction to her work.

“I think it’s ridiculous. Because it’s not racist,” Cattaneo said. “ It’s as many ethnic background children that I could paint at that point. It’s not religious, it’s spiritual. “

She said she hadn’t talked to the doctors that made these comments and that she doesn’t know them personally.

Cattaneo, who has been painting for about 60 years, says she also taught art in the McKinley County school system, for about the last 25-30 years.

“I haven’t gotten complaints,” she said. “I have gotten many, many compliments for my work.

“I happen to like people. Portraits to me are the Mount Everest of painting,” she said. “It’s the most difficult [type of] realistic art.”

When the series was first hung at the clinic, it was an event. Judy Conejo said invitations were sent out and about 200 people attended the exhibit.

“The community loved them. The employees loved them,” Conejo told the Gallup Sun Aug. 5. “They were never intended to stay there forever.”

But Conejo added, “I think this is an ugly way to get them down.

“My main thought is, I don’t understand their criticism. If they had said it’s time for a change … I could understand it. I think they showed a lot of disrespect for Jacquelyn and the community, because they’re local children. They’re grown now,” Conejo said.

Conejo is no longer volunteering at the hospital and has no connection with what happens with the art works.

Cattaneo told the Sun, the paintings are still up at RMCH and she is searching for a new home for them.

By Beth Blakeman
Associate Editor

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