In producing works for the gallery, I allow myself to become both a metaphor and a metonym in the manner outlined by Stuart Hall in Dee Horne's Unsettling Literature.
As a metaphor, I am an apple; as a metonym, a much broader term applies: Indi'n
As a member of the colonized on this continent, I am denied power in my endeavor to participate in the gallery system in America. [This is because] the construction of that system was created separately from that of [indigenous art production] which is often disconnected from the dominant "fine art" standard. Continuing Native traditional works are either frequently dismissed or relegated to discussions of "tourist art" which is theoretically produced to meet a market demand for "crafts" of Native origin.
My work negotiates demands such as PL-101-644, issues of sovereignty, and cultural subject matter within the realm of the non-Indian art-system. It neither seeks to satisfy nor to belong to the expectations of that system; I acknowledge the presence of other Native artists who have been working in the "fine art" system [...] I also seek to negotiate their efforts.
"For the stereotype is at once a substitute and a shadow."(1) I am, via metonymy, INDI'N; the _____ Indi'n. Therefore, my paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures must tell my figurative story. I seek to overlap the differences between merely becoming a colonial mimic and an "authentic" Native individual.
(1) Homi Bhabha
after Bruce nauman, "The Consummate Mask of Rock, 1975"
1. This is the memory of the fort hanging [allegorically.]
2. This is the memory of hanging at the fort.
3. This is to enroll.
4. This is to enroll in the hanging.
5. This is the American memory of the fort.
6. This is the authentic fort hanging in a memory.
Hanging and memory.
7. Memory and hanging allegorically recognized.
8. Federally recognized American memory.
9. Federally before allegorically.
The fort memory.
10. This is the.
11. This is the authentic American fort hanging in my interpretation.
[This is my memory.]
12. Enroll in authentic interpretation.
13. This is the interpretation of authentic.
14. This is the memory that recognized the authentic hanging.
15. This is my American interpretation of a federally recognized memory.
16. The fort interpretation allegorically recognized.
. 17. The fort is my memory.
[Memory of hanging.]
18. Hanging recognized.
19. This is allegorically hanging around the fort.
2. Berthold Indian Reservation
3. 30 Dakotas
10. Wind River Indian
full floor, city views
It was following this recent trip that I finally understood the following: I have overcome nothing. The reason is that I am never very far from the idea of the reservation.
The reservation is a referent for myself in the same way that Roland Barthes described the relationship between a photograph and its referent. “It is as if the Photograph always carries its referent with itself…[the] Photograph belongs to that class of laminated objects whose two leaves cannot be separated without destroying them both: the windowpane and the landscape, and why not: Good and Evil, desire and its object…” He states that the unrelenting presence of the referent is what defines the essence of the Photograph.
While I was on the reservation, it was as if New York did not exist. It’s always a given that reservations are the real places that do not exist, so it surprised me. On a photo shoot in a loft downtown, the photographer asked me if “preservations” still exist. I was confused (he’s originally from Greece), and he repeated the question. He knew that I identified as Native, and he wanted to know if people still live on reservations. His understanding was that the government set aside these locations in an effort to “preserve” the Native people’s lifeways.
GRANDPA THE SUN
I was initially moved to choose “grandpa” because the term was already loaded with an implication of informal patrilineage. Out of the words/phrases in column B, “the sun” seemed to match “grandpa,” and in doing so, formed “Grandpa the Sun,” an appropriate title for the current vein of work I’ve already been investigating. “Grandpa the Sun” said and possibly meant all that I had been unable to say previously.
I grew on the Wind River Indian Reservation. My father came from a different tribe than my mother; it was her reservation. In school, I used to feel somewhat ashamed about it. In many ways, that fact never changed even as I grew older that I was unable to claim either of my parents’ tribes. However, I was always more fascinated and frightened by the language my father used to speak on the telephone to long distance relatives in North Dakota. He spoke Hidatsa, having grown up in a “traditional” Hidatsa household in the 40s and 50s. He always had a certain disdain for English. I used to read directions for him on how to install the VCR or how to repair the car stereo system.
He had stories. There were stories of his childhood, growing up with no running water and living on a small farm. He told ghost stories and stories about Creation. Those stories were eerie on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation because of its remoteness and its silent hills. One of the things he told was an account about when he went to Crow Fair as a kid, and he used to grassdance. Powwows were different back in the day, he used to say. I used to be embarrassed to be the only student in my class on the reservation who still danced at powwows. Other students’ parents let them sort of run wild around the arbor but I had to grow dusty, tired, thirsty, and I was a terrible dancer. I never put any effort into it since I guessed I wouldn’t need it later in life.
“Dad” told a story about a grassdancer’s hoop that was associated with the sun; the Sun itself was sort of a father of the first man who came to earth in the shape of an arrow. The sun and circles figured into a number of things, but not in the usual “circle of life” talk that people often try to slap on “Native American” culture.
So I left the reservation to find school, art, and failure. I had an unacknowledged complex about finally letting go of the things I used to dream about letting go of as a kid. Poor rez parents and my reservation accent. My mother’s most used refrain, “When we have money, we can . . . “ So many promises never realized because we never had the money. But my folks had culture. My mother spoke Shoshone. She used to cook certain things and talk about dishes of old. My father made (and still makes) roaches. His eyesight is failing and the right materials are hard to come by, but he still plugs along.
He taught me how to sort and tie deertail hair and porcupine hair. My hands aren’t really strong enough to sew the tied strips onto a center. That leads me back into, “Grandpa the Sun.”
I used to regret that I was not my father’s son. True, the clans are matrilineal, but I could have been a grassdancer. Maybe, maybe, I used to say to myself, I would have given up my notions of college to join the service. I would have taken a 9-5 that I could take off Fridays and Mondays to dance. I could have learned Hidatsa.
I first made the breastplates out of drinking straws after I transferred to the University of Illinois when I telephoned the Native American Support Program director there and discovered that she had a pronounced Navajo accent. In the sculpture, I used my traditional knowledge to make a predictable social comment about fast food accoutrements. James Luna came into it much later when I finally started to look at other contemporary NA artists. Luna is probably the Magritte of Native artists; that is, everyone probably expresses a passing interest in him at some point. I finally made the “drawing” out of red dyed porcupine quills the year I graduated from UIC. I used a thin nail to first puncture holes into a finished white wall then put the quills in the holes, sharp side out. Many people unknowingly touched the needle-like points, not imagining that an animal could have such a painful defense. I am a kind of little porcupine; weak and blind; spiny and tasty went cooked. It happened that during my critique of that drawing, someone mentioned the Damasceno show at the MCA which I had no clue about. They went as far as to ask if I had found my inspiration from it; just proof of a collective Unconsious, I say. Making the prints for “Grandpa the Sun” caused me to reflect on these things I’ve written as well as try again to find peace between the problems of my past and the problems of my present. I never knew either of my actual grandfathers. When my father prays, he faces the east, the place where the sun rises in the morning.
Response to Duane Slick's "The List Assignment." 2006