On Thursday, January 26, Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community member and artist Dwayne Manuel was featured as one of the Phoenix Suns’ Originativ Collab artists. Manuel designed a T-shirt for the Suns featuring his unique style of artwork.
Ecstatic about the opportunity to design for the Suns, Manuel put a lot of thought and consideration into the concept and design for the shirt. The design represents not only the team, but also the people of the land where they play.
Manuel went back to his mother, Alice Manuel, and sister, Raeanne Brown, for references to the O’odham basket designs of the sun. The sun was the core symbol in the design.
“With the sun [representing] fire, I thought about all the elements: fire, water, earth and air,” said Manuel, explaining the design concept. “I utilized the O’odham water design or river design … throughout the back of the [shirt], in blue. Through that water design I utilized stylized Huhugam linear work. And then I wanted to represent air by utilizing the arrowhead, so there’s the little Huhugam arrowheads incorporated into the sun. I thought air, because you know the arrow has flashed through the air, and so that’s why I utilized that in the design. Finally, I utilized the basketball as the representation of earth, because the basketball needs the ground to bounce off of. It all kind of fit after I got the ball rolling.”
Manuel could use his own colors, the team colors of the Phoenix Suns, or the colors utilized for the Originativ Collab. He decided to stick with the Originativ Collab colors for this project.
The day before the game, the Phoenix Suns released a video of Manuel and the design of the T-shirt on their social media pages. Manuel introduced himself and talked about his journey as an artist, explaining how his artwork expresses issues and celebration but most importantly incorporates the designs of the O’odham with a contemporary flair. The video was also played on the jumbotron at the Suns game against the Dallas Mavericks.
“It was an awkward experience. It’s interesting, you know, seeing yourself on that big screen. It was cool seeing my work up there that large in front of so many people, but it was awkward having that camera in your face and just kind of sitting there for like two minutes, waving,” said Manuel. “As they brought the camera up and the production team was talking to me, the people around us were like ‘What’s going on? Who is this guy?’ You can see they’re looking back at me. After the video played, everybody sitting around us was all hyped and started giving me fist bumps, so that was cool.”
Manuel hopes this opportunity to establish a relationship with the Phoenix Suns organization and other organizations in the Valley, not only for him but for all Native artists, will continue to educate and inform people about the Native American communities in Arizona. He hopes that this is not just a one-time thing and that there are more collaborations with the tribes in the years to come.
“It feels good; it’s a great opportunity, because I’ve been a fan of the Phoenix Suns since the 1990s, and so of course, the Phoenix Suns is our team. It was exciting to now get an opportunity to design a shirt for them,” said Manuel. “I’m really proud of what I’ve done with that design.”