“As indigenous people we’ve contributed so many things to the world, and our kids don’t even know about it,” ” We need to educate our kids through our art.”
“When I was done I felt so relieved. A weight had been lifted off my shoulders,” acknowledged Henriquez, who teamed up with Gregg Deal, a painter, street artist and performance artist who belongs to the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, for the project.
Then, just as he was about to leave the site, a woman approached Henriquez. “[She said,] ‘We need this. This is going to empower our community,’” he recalled. “Then I understood the reason we did that mural and sacrificed so much. It wasn’t until you had to go through it that you really understood the bigger picture.”
The realization came as a revelation for the Venice native, who has Mayan and Nahua roots.
“At first I was just a tagger” incorporating indigenous patterns into his graffiti, said Henriquez, but teachers convinced him he could make a living from his art. After a brief stint in art college — “They didn’t really understand what I was trying to do, and I didn’t understand it myself,” the artist explained — he moved into graphic design, exploring themes inspired by his indigenous identity and the Mexican Day of the Dead, Día de los Muertos.
Now Henriquez mixes politically minded murals and street art with apparel and more. His company NSRGNTS, conceived in 1999 and launched in 2000, promotes “the transmission of indigenous thought and philosophy” through everything.
Henriquez was in his early 20s when he attended his first pow wow. “I saw so many people who looked like my relatives,” he recalled, Native Americans who were truly “in tune with their heritage and their family history.”
He longed to connect with them and tap into a shared ancestral history. “We can learn from other ancestors — how to deal with reality, with life, with diversity,” Henriquez said. “All of us need to know that as indigenous people. There are lessons to be learned.”