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Chumash dance dress, 2017. Collaboration between Leah Mata Fragua and Cara Romero. Photo courtesy of the artists.

Story written by SAR editorial team.


Northern Chumash artist Leah Mata Fragua wants her art to make you stop and think about how the world is changing around you—for better or worse.

SAR’s 2020 Eric and Barbara Dobkin fellow, Fragua uses art as a way to raise awareness of the impact of climate change on her tribe’s homelands along the central California coast.

That impact has even extended to Fragua’s material selections. In keeping with her tribe’s traditions, she sources materials from the Chumash people’s original lands. One of her primary media, abalone, is traditionally used for a host of purposes, including jewelry, fishhooks, food, and ceremonies.

However, the gastropod is no longer readily available due to a fishing ban along the California coast through 2021 as the species attempts to rebound from overfishing and a shrinking supply of kelp, its primary food source.

Inspired by her daughter’s interest in learning her traditional dances, Fragua made an adult-sized traditional Northern Chumash dress during her fellowship to help spark even more conversations about climate change.

Leah Mata Fragua

Leah Mata Fragua. Photo by Garret P. Vreeland.

“I think everyone and everything is a teacher,” she said in a recent video interview. “You just have to listen and hear it. Find those paths that help sustain our traditions, our practices, our foods, our resources, our languages. Because really when it comes down to it, being able to sustain those regardless of what happens externally is the important part of the survival of Indigenous people. And I hope that my work speaks to other generations and that long after I’m gone it will still be an important conversation.”


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