Through various forms of art, Contemporary Indigenous Artists have been addressing preconceptions of Eurocentric views of their culture, identity and the isolation of reservation life for decades. The history of Indigenous peoples, including Contemporary Indigenous Art are often left out of the conversation. Through history and popular culture, the image of Native Americans has consisted of monolithic celluloid characters and old images created by Edward S. Curtis. Beautiful, yet these photographs have unfortunately contributed into stereotypes that Indigenous people are artifacts. There are a few artists whom have taken these photos and ideas of the past into their own hands in creating art work revolving these views.
Living in two worlds is often a theme in Indigenous art and is used when confronting the preconceptions of the Eurocentric gaze. This gaze is associate with lack of knowledge on Indigenous people and their culture but only familiar with them through western films, old photos, and stereotypes. They are unaware that there are 562 federally recognized tribes. Today’s Contemporary Indigenous artists are challenging the ways conventional museums depict Indigenous peoples, culture and art. We will be taking a closer look at these artists and how they are able to bring these topics into discussion with performance and photography.
James Luna, is an internationally renowned performance and installation artists who is Puyukitchum, Ipai, and Mexican American Indian (James Luna). His art consists of aspects of Indigenous identity, isolation and misinterpretations of his culture. In his historical The Artifact Piece, he changed Contemporary Native American Art forever. The Artifact Piece performance was created in 1987, when Luna was attending the San Diego State University and at the time, his focus was in art education. The performance allowed the viewer to participate in the reality of the current state of the American Indian in a contemporary setting. Luna displayed his belongings such as; his divorce papers, music he enjoyed, photographs and himself in a display case. Luna has been such an influential artist to Contemporary Native artist.
James Luna The Artifact Piece 1987
Erica Lord Artifact: Revisited 2008
Artifacts and stereotypes play a huge roll in how the world perceives the identity of Native Americans in society. Another part of the stereotypes is in the perceptions and reality in which they are often considered a mere joke comparison to their ancestors and “all the real Indians died off”. It is often hard for non-natives to believe that Indigenous people are a current living culture. Today Contemporary artists are often said to be “manufacturing artifacts”.
Terrance Houle Urban Indian Series #3 2005
Wendy Redstar Four Seasons 2006
These artists and their work are very important and powerful. Their content and reasons behind the creation is needed in Contemporary Art. Since the time I started this research James Luna unfortunately passed away this year and I was deeply saddened by it. The contribution to of his work to Contemporary Native art has changed it forever. He has inspired a whole new generation of Native Artists. Through different forms of art especially performance, Erica Lord, Terrance Houle and Wendy Redstar have been creating art about their culture, identity and the isolation of reservation life. These Contemporary Indigenous Artists are opening the conversation to these topics. With in the Contemporary Art there is room for Indigenous art.
Erica Lord. Other Peoples Pixels. 2018. www.ericalord.com . Accessed 20 January 2018.
James Luna: Transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary. James Lune 2017. www.jamesluna.red/artwork . Accessed 2 February 2018.
Selz, Peter. The Art of Engagement, Visual Politics in California and Beyond. Pg 165
Terrance Houle. www.terrancehoule.com . Accessed 18 January 2018
Thompson, Chuck. Cowboys and Indians: Voice. www.cowboysindians.com/2018/01/wendy-red-star-and-the-indigenous-voice . Accessed 6 February 2018