By day, University of Arizona School of Art alumnus Dwayne Manuel (MFA ’14) teaches painting and drawing at the Tohono O’odham Community College. By night, and possibly on the weekends, you might know him better as “Dwayno Insano,” his muralist moniker, or perhaps, Dwayne the Destroyer, from his Instagram account.
Either way, the instructor and alter ego artist have been making an impact in Southern Arizona for years.
In the past couple of years, Manuel has created a lobby mural, LANDSLICE, for the Tucson Museum of Art, and redesigned the University of Arizona medallion given to Regents Professors and other distinguished faculty.
With LANDSLICE, Manuel, who belongs to the On’k Akimel Oʼodham / Salt River-Maricopa Indian Community, blended contemporary aerosol aesthetics with imagery connected to his O’odham culture and heritage. He honored three mountains sacred to O’odham himdak (culture/way of life): Baboquivari, Catalina, and Quinlan; each are mentioned in oral stories and are pillars of O’odham history. In LANDSLICE, these landforms are depicted with bright purple and golden hues, referencing the tribal colors of the Tohono O’odham Nation.
Manuel called the installation “A visual ode to the ongoing discussion of land, politics and the indigenous perspective,” referencing conversations at that time about tribal sovereignty and Indigenous lands rights, like Standing Rock in North Dakota.
Last spring the medallion redesign project gave Manuel another opportunity to depict “place.” He drew inspiration from the land and location – specifically, the state of Arizona, the city of Tucson and the University of Arizona.
“In a very simple definition, a university is a place where people come together to indulge, embrace and participate in the ritual of learning,” said Manuel. “It is the mixture of ‘place of learning’ and the location of the University of Arizona where the symbolism in the medallion is derived.”
Professor Emeritus of Art Alfred J. Quiroz encouraged Manuel to enroll at the University of Arizona and was the chair of Manuel’s thesis committee.
“Dwayne is a humorous individual with a very serious message about his culture,” said Quiroz. “We got along very well, and I did learn a few things about his Native background. After Dwayne earned his MFA, his tribe had a reception for he and I. At that reception, I was ‘accepted’ into the tribe with a traditional Pendleton blanket, I felt honored.”
Quiroz predicts national success for his former pupil.
“He is a remarkable individual,” said Quiroz. “He is an outstanding draftsman and designer … definitely a strong Native American voice that needs to be heard and seen. He is very savvy on contemporary art and his role in it the art world. He will be an important artist and I predict nationally!”
Gary Setzer, another one of Manuel’s influential professors, praised Manuel’s abilities as a teacher.
“Dwayne was one in a million,” said Setzer. “He had serious chops as an artist and was also an invaluable teacher. He took his job leading young artists very seriously. The students revered Dwayne, had the utmost admiration for his creative practice, and delighted in his unique sense of humor. I’m endlessly proud of everything he achieved while he was here and I’m equally proud of everything he has accomplished since that time.”
Manuel has designed shoes as part of Nike’s Desert Journey Collection as well as skateboard decks. He has collaborated and been commissioned by organizations such as Salt River Courts, The New Arizona Prize, The Cheyenne River Youth Project and Children’s Museum Tucson; exhibited work the Museum of Contemporary Native Art, The Amerind, The Heard Museum, Tucson Museum of Art, the I.D.E.A. Space Colorado and supported various Indigenous, environmental, and women’s causes through his work and has mentored young Native artists.
Interview with Dwayne Manuel
On your website, your bio says: “Some elder O’odham folks would describe Dwayne as ‘Born with a pencil in his hand,’ which is his second Indian name.” Have you always had a penchant for drawing?
Yes, I’ve always been drawing. One of the earliest memories I have is a mental snapshot of me, in childhood, drawing on a piece of paper. I can still see the piece of paper and my little chubby hand gripping the pencil. My decision to study visual art emerged after graduating high school. As a young man, I had no idea what to do with my life, but I knew I had to do something. Drawing was one of my favorite things to do, so I figured I would try to go to school for it.
Alfred Quiroz said that he encouraged you to apply to the MFA program. What factored in your decision to apply? How did your experience in the MFA program shape your future?
Alfred is the G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time), and you can tell him I said that. My choice of UA was simple, as there were only a couple of factors in guiding my decision. At the time, I applied, and was accepted, at both UA and ASU. I took the time to visit both schools and talk to some instructors and graduate students at both programs. The deciding factor was I felt UA was more welcoming, more down to earth and showed more interest in me as a student, artist and individual. The faculty and the graduate students communicated the vibe that they wanted me there, which was comforting. Although it is very difficult to pinpoint all the experiences at UA that shaped me as an artist; the MFA program was very important for my future as it provided a learning environment focused on both my content and skill development as a working artist, and it also provided me with my first real opportunities of teaching. So, it is safe to say that the U of A Master’s program is where I developed my chops in teaching painting and drawing.
You now teach painting and drawing at Tohono O’odham Community College. How did your teacher-student relationship with your professors inform your teaching today?
Alfred is a king in my eyes. When we first met, we hit it off almost immediately. When in his presence, I could tell that he just couldn’t stop himself from sharing his knowledge and experience. All the life stories, information behind his paintings, art ideas, all would be laid before me, like a buffet. I learned a great deal about teaching from him. Having the opportunity to shadow him in his painting class was the best teaching experience of my life. His fluid, natural, immersive style is something I try to emulate to this day. I have to give mad love and props to both Alfred Quiroz and Gary Setzer, as they both gave me the teaching experience I never knew I needed. Gary Setzer is the funniest man on Earth, and he also played a big part of providing me with the necessary tools I needed to teach. So, I guess you can say my teaching style is a hybrid of Alfred and Gary’s influence.
What message do you have for Native American youth in the arts?
My message is this: Your experience is your truth. I know what it’s like to be a tribal person in today’s modern climate, and so do you. So, express yourself, no matter what. Use your voice to change someone’s world. It doesn’t have to be the entire world, but it can be someone’s world. As I get older, I want to see more younger Native American artists get their shine on, as I ain’t going to be here forever, so that torch I carry needs to be passed on. So, be open to new experiences, be open to learning something new and be open to embracing change … because life’s too short to be staying in place, so make moves.