by Jim Corrigan, ed. Linda V. Ferrer
Throughout November, Art in Suburbia is focusing on the contributions of Native Americans. In this spirt, we decided to take a look at Native American art.
Of course, even saying “Native American art” is to create a box that cannot begin to contain the diverse voices of a once-thriving nation. We decided to focus on contemporary works that focus on political issues.
According to Kinsey Lane Sullivan in "11 Native American Artists Whose Work Redefines
What It Means to Be American," published in Hype in 2015, a number of Native American
artists wrestle with the notion of being trapped in history, with identity, and the archetype
we've come to know. The text-book narrative found in American history portrays Native
Americans as the 'pre-civilized,' but of course, this is a myth of convenience rather than
understanding. Native American art is as diverse as their cultures, depicting everything from
their history to the way they see their own culture and ours.
Sullivan quotes the photographer Will Wilson: “I want to supplant [Edward] Curtis’ Settler gaze
and the remarkable body of ethnographic material he compiled with a contemporary vision of
Native North America ... These alone — rather than the old paradigm of assimilation — can
form the basis for a reimagined vision of who we are as Native people.” The politics of a lot
of the work we surveyed, however, are subtle. The identity asserted is often abstracted or
conceptual, as if in transition or emerging.
In recent times, when we hear about Native American activism (such as the Sioux opposing the
Dakota Access Pipeline), it is often about preservation. It doesn’t take much to connect their efforts
with themes of identity in a lot of contemporary Native American work. It is a statement that says
“We are here." The question is, why does it continue to be unheard.