Jeffrey Veregge’s love of comics

 

A lot of folks these days are looking forward to Avengers: Endgame. I know Jeffrey Veregge is one of them. Here’s a clip and an article of Veregge talking about his love of comics, which hasn’t always been easy.   It is a love that has often been mixed up with frustrations over the negative representation of Natives in comics. However, Veregge has recently had a chance to himself rectify some of these misrepresentations.  When Marvel rebooted the Native American character Red Wolf, Veregge was brought on board to steer the character clear of the stereotypes it has been attached to in the past. He devised the character in the style that has become his trademark – incorporating the traditional formline art technique common to his reservation Port Gamble S’klallam in Washington into the overall design. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jeffrey Veregge is still on view at the Smithsonian with a large superhero- themed mural.  

 

Wendy Red Star at Newark Museum

Wendy Red Star is one of the most exciting contemporary artists at the moment. There was recently a feature article in Vogue about Red Star which is a clear sign that she is hot stuff in the art world right now. Moreover, she has a solo exhibition at Newark Museum. It is an extensive exhibition that covers her production from 2006 to 2019 and includes more than 40 of her works. 

Red Star has tried her hand at many different mediums. Some, such as weaving, she uses because of it’s traditional link to the crafts of her reservation – the Apsáalooke (Crow) in Montana. But it is perhaps her photographic work that has drawn the most attention.  Red Star often uses herself as subject and model in her photographs. 

A recurring theme for Red Star’s art is the politics of identity and memory. 

Many of Red Star’s works utilize strategies and methods found in conceptual art. “My Home is Where my Tipi Sits”, for instance, echoes Bernt and Hilla Becher’s photographic typologies. But a still more significant influence is arguably the “theatrical” trend in 1980s art. The staged quality of Red Star’s work can be traced back to artists such as Cindy Sherman, Laurie Simmons, Robert Longo, Richard Prince. 

These artists used strategies of theatricality and artifice to explore the manufactured nature of various identities. As does Red Star. But when she employs similar strategies she needs them to convince more than the artists above. That’s because the figure of the Native American is arguably surrounded by some of the most rigid stereotypes there are. In the series “Four Seasons” (2006) Red Star examines and seeks to undermine the image of “the natural Indian” – a Native American with a privileged bond to nature and to earth. As evidenced by Disney’s Pocahontas, the illustration for the butter Land o’Lakes and countless posters, album covers and posed photographs, there is such a shortage of Native American artists and cultural commentators with a strong voice on the international stage, that these stereotypes are often allowed to continue to shackle Native identity. Many whites hold their stereotypical notions dear and are profoundly invested in the view of the Native American as holder of the secrets to nature. 

As Daniel Larkin explains:

This romantic, and generic, image of the American Indian as spiritually connected to a bucolic earth has inspired many non-Indians to make trips to reservations, visit museum exhibitions, partake in rituals, and read texts associated with the many different indigenous peoples of North America. However, this romantic image can lead outsiders to cherry pick ideas from the diversity of American-Indian spirituality so that they fit into their preconceived, romanticized New Age schemas. 

What is particularly brilliant about Red Star’s photographs is that they look better than they actually are. What I mean is that, at first the images appear to unproblematically play into the hands of those with romanticized notions of Native Americans. What the viewer initially encounters is an adorned Native woman in a beautiful landscape, accompanied by animals. The image is so familiar and normalized that it is understandable if the viewer does not immediately spot the ”tells” that this image is fake, such as the suspicious creases in the landscape – which is actually a poster – behind Red Star. Or the blatant two-dimensionslity of the cardboard animals. Through this perceptual twist, Red Star’s images not only uncovers the artifice of visual clichés but also lay bare the viewer’s willingness to be seduced by them. 

Red Star’s staged photographs remind me a bit of that scene in Night at the Museum where Ben Stiller tries to have a conversation with Sacagawea through thick glass that mutes all sound. Red Star’s tableau’s are similarly characterized by disrupted communication. That Red Star now has a major exhibition in a big museum is fitting considering that museums and cultural institutions have often been major agents in perpetuating skewed ideas about Native Americans.  

Wendy Red Star´s mid career survey is on view at the Newark Museum until June 16, 2019

Heard Museum’s Indian Fair and Market

Tomorrow marks the beginning of Heard Museum´s Indian Fair and Market. For two days Heard Museum invites more than 600 Native American artists and artisans to show their work, making it the largest market of it’s kind in Arizona and second largest in the US. There will also be live performances, storytellings and craft-making events.  

This year the Best of Show Award has been raised to 10000 $. Some of the artists taking part in the market adorn our walls here at Kiva Gallery – for instance Randy Kemp, Ira Lujan, Terrence Guardipee, Nocona Burgess, Stella Teller, and Pat Pruitt. The Heard Fair is usually a good time so we are a little sad that we are unable to attend this year. But we’re sending the artists best wishes and a little extra hooray to those represented by Kiva Gallery!

Heard Museum Indian Fair and Market, March 2-3 

Douglas Miles in ”The Mystery of Now”

 

One of Kiva gallery’s favourite artists and all around maverick Douglas Miles is on a roll right now. And yes, that is a pun on his skateboard company Apache skateboards. We’re seeing his skate decks all over the place these days – on the cover of American Indian magazine, at Epcot center, Disney World – as part of its’ first exhibition of Native American culture and history, and in a fantastic short film released earlier this week. The film is called “The Mystery of Now” and was directed by Audrey Buchanan. Besides filmmaking, Buchanan styles herself as an professional interviewer who champions the importance of listening. We have written about the need for white people to listen more here on the blog, so we naturally think Buchanan is an excellent choice for presenting the voice of Douglas Miles. 

The film immediately immerses the viewer in a mood reminiscent of Terrence Malick  – setting slow camera movements around San Carlos to ambient sounds and a calm and thoughtful voice-over. The voice belongs to Douglas Miles and when he kicks the film into motion by urging “let’s do something God – let’s make something”, you know he means it. The entire theme of the film revolves around skateboarding, but you come out of the film with the sensation that you have watched something more profound than a skate video. Skate videos are usually not very emotional but this one is. That’s because Douglas Miles and the kids on his skate team view skateboarding as such a positive force that it almost takes on a spiritual dimension. It’s not just about the tricks – although we do get footage of some radical skate action and Miles’ son Doug Jr. looks like he can rip with the best of them. “We had the bow and arrows, now we have skateboards” says a member of the Apache skate crew named Tasha which sums up the constructive function skateboarding has in the culture of San Carlos. Another member of the team talks about how skateboarding has brought them all together to have feasts like they had in the past. 

“The Mystery of Now” arrives with great timing. In a week that has been medially dominated by videos of a bunch of kids in MAGA hats being complete assholes to a Native American elder at Lincoln Memorial, it’s nice to counter the venom by seeing some kids that can find community around something positive. Too bad “The Mystery of Now” is not likely to get the same viral spread as the MAGA-kids video.     

Oh, and a delightful bonus is that Powell Peralta skate legend Tommy Guerrero makes an appearance in the film.

2018 – the year of the Native American blockbuster?

“Now I think more and more people are becoming involved and beginning to make films with their own ideas. We’re just looking for the first big crossover film that is Native American-themed and written and produced and everything.”

-Wes Studi

It’s a new year and a time for looking ahead. So let’s start the new year off on a hopeful note. This interview with actor Wes Studi will put you there. Studi is such a veteran that it is a surprise for me to learn that he didn’t really start acting until in his 40s. His big break came quite fast in the role as The Toughest Pawnee in Dances With Wolves (1990). Since then Studi has put over 90 credits to his name. He’s played a lot of Indians of course but also more non-ethnic specific roles, such as detective Casals alongside Al Pacino in Heat. Studi still yearns to be known as just an actor rather than a Native American actor and dreams about helming a comedy about a grumpy old man. A Native American in a leading role that is not defined primarily in Native American terms would indeed be a game-changer.

And who knows. Having recently watched the amazing Wind River (which I will write more about in a few days) I’m at moment hopeful about the future of Hollywood. The clean-up currently going on in the movie industry can only pave the way for a new Hollywood, one that’s hopefully more diversified and open to all kinds of narratives, not just ones that appeal to old white men.

 

Pendleton has made the perfect accessory for your next visit to the ice planet Hoth

Oh wow! Didn’t know this existed. The textile manufacturing company Pendleton has released a series of Star Wars blankets. Luke Skywalker and fam meet the tribes as familiar Star Wars motifs are set against backgrounds of traditional Native patterns. We’ve written about the popularity of the Star Wars franchise among contemporary Native American artists. My guess is that these blankets are at the top of these artists christmas wish lists.

Pendleton has produced one unique blanket for each movie in the latest trilogy, as well as a couple of others. My favourite blanket is probably the one that accompanies Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which premiered just last week. It has a beautiful red, blue, black and white color scheme and incorporates the Star Wars iconography into the overall Native pattern.

 

Sadly, Kiva Gallery doesn’t stock Pendleton Star Wars blankets just yet, but we do have several other Pendleton blankets for sale. Swedish winter may not be as gruelling as on Hoth, but almost. A Pendleton blanket is the perfect christmas gift, it will keep you warm and cozy all through winter.

 

How contemporary Native American artists counter cultural appropriation with artistic appropriation

Google “Native American appropriation art” and the first five pages of results or so are all about negative cases of cultural appropriation. On these pages we can read about how outsiders misuse Native American images and cultural heritage, such as the infamous feathered headdress on a lingerie clad model in a Victoria’s Secret show five years ago. Cultural appropriation, of course, continues to be a problem and something that should be addressed and discussed. However, when typing in that search term I wasn’t looking for Native Americans as victims. I wanted to read about how appropriation is used as a strategy within contemporary Native American art. I was looking for Native American artists as agents of empowerment. To find such results buried under droves of articles about how Native American iconography has been mistreated must feel like a double slap in the face. First whites steal Native cultural practices and use it in a distorted way, then this act of appropriation steals the attention away from Native artists who use appropriation as a way to symbolically fight back.

This makes it very difficult to place the aesthetic tactics of many Native American artists into proper art historical perspective, which is a shame, especially considering how significant appropriation is for many Native artists. Appropriation is, after all, a genre of contemporary art that has perhaps been the most important hub for questions concerning artistic authorship and originality and the contextual relativity of the meaning of images. It is perhaps within the Native art community that the legacy of appropriation art today finds it’s firmest stronghold. At first sight it may come as a surprise to learn how popular Andy Warhol is in this community. I can tell you that it is not because of his “Cowboy and Indian series”, but rather because of how Warhol demonstrated that the specialness of a sign – for instance a Campbell’s soup can – can be emptied by the act of repetition and how the meaning of a pre-existing image or object can be altered by placing it within a new context.

Warhol himself was not a particularly political figure, but the strategy of appropriation, of “copying” images and making them your own, has a history of political uses.
Dara Birnbaum and Sherrie Levine used appropriation to feminist ends. By repeating and recontextualizing imagery by male originators they questioned the authenticity of representations of gender. Appropriation has also been employed to question the commodity value of art and its underlying economic structures.

Even before it was a genre of art, Raphael Montanez Ortiz performed a case of appropriation aimed at exposing the misrepresentation of Native Americans. In 1957 he used a Tomahawk to chop up Anthony Mann’s western Winchester ’73. He then put the pieces back together at random, resulting in a complete scrambling and disruption of the original narrative. “Ortiz considered his shaman-like process resonant with his indigenous heritage. His destructive act also criticized media depictions of Native Americans.” 

As a genre, Native American appropriation art comes across as something self-evident and completely natural. Artists are simply taking images back that were stolen from them. Artists such as Douglas Miles, Jaque Fragua, Steven Paul Judd, Ryan Singer, among many others, consider appropriation a way to take repossession of images that they have lost control over. In short, one might say that appropriation art is a means to combat cultural appropriation.

We’ve written about the importance of graffiti for contemporary Native artists many times here on the blog. In the hands of Native artists, painting with spray cans in public spaces is no petty act of vandalism but a profoundly political gesture. This is clearly demonstrated by Jaques Fragua who wrote “This Is Indian Land” in giant letters on a construction site in Downtown Los Angeles. The act of appropriation is performed in a spirit kindred to graffiti. For Native American artists it is about re-claiming what is rightfully theirs by symbolically taking back their land by illegally writing on it, or redefining images that have been made from an external point of view.

We haven’t written about Jaque Fragua on the blog before, so let’s continue on him. Besides graffiti, Fragua considers appropriation one of his artistic go-to’s. “The Big Chief” is for instance a commercial symbol that has become a recurring character throughout Fragua’s work. Fragua explains: “He’s a chief from a sign that’s near my reservation, at Big Chief Gas Station. If you’ve ever watched Breaking Bad, you’ve see that gas station. I lifted him and I’ve been putting him everywhere—he’s the Big Chief, right? When you put a mirror against another mirror, you start seeing the core of the truths.”

In another interview, Fragua explains the appeal of appropriation more in depth: ”Simply, it’s about imagery that continues to colonize us. By creating fine art out of these visuals and emphasizing the images ad nauseum, it creates the opposite effect. Sort of like Warhol’s soup cans.”  Fragua thus reappropriates his culture’s iconography in a way that conceptually subverts our overconsumption of misappropriated Native American images that has turned into stereotypes.

Some critics fear that appropriation as a artistic gesture has lost some of its meaning in a time when borrowing, quoting, stealing and copying is everyday practice to the point of being ubiquitous. However, for Native American artists, appropriation simply follows the rules of the game set by a white hegemony. It is the answer to a signifying practice already put in place. As such, appropriation is important now perhaps more than ever. With a president that casually refers to people of Native American heritage as “Pocahontas”, and a culture at large that hold it’s racial stereotypes dearly, appropriation as artistic weapon offers a way to strike back. Contemporary Native American artists turn to appropriation not to be trendy or edgy but out of urgency. It opens a line of dialogue that lets Native Americans have the last word on images that they were not in charge of in the first place and thus to let the public know what they think about them.

Further reading about cultural appropriation:

https://unsettlingamerica.wordpress.com/2011/09/16/cultural-appreciation-or-cultural-appropriation/

https://jezebel.com/5959698/a-much-needed-primer-on-cultural-appropriation 

http://nativeappropriations.com

 

About appropriation art:

https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-the-art-of-copying-ten-masters-of-appropriation

https://www.thoughtco.com/appropriation-appropriation-art-183190 

“Okay, I think I can do that”: How to look at art and get inspired to do, well, just about anything.

There are days when you don’t have anything in particular to report – no news and no opinions. Some days you just want to write about something that makes you feel good. Something to inspire you to get off your ass and do stuff. Something in the “hell yeah!”-vein, in other words. This is one of those days. There are many things I love about Native American Art, but there is one thing in particular that keeps hold on me and it’s something that runs deeper than surface aesthetics. It is a certain attitude that shows you how powerful art can be. Art can give you a voice when other means of expression are suppressed. It is hard to find that attitude elsewhere, at least so collectively concentrated. The realization that art can show reality but also create another reality is what makes so many Native communities bubble with creativity.

The rapper Drake said in the song “Fireworks”: “from the concrete who knew that a flower would grow”, meaning that it is surprising that beauty could come from harsh circumstances. He clearly has no concept of Native Art. Or, to take an example closer to Drake’s own rap identity – New York’s graffiti culture in the late 1970s and early 80s. There is a lot about that era that reminds me of the contemporary Native art scene. That period is all about the creative ways of the disenfranchised to grow out of the concrete. Spraycan graffiti was a completely invented art form so there were no art schools to teach you how to do it. Ghetto kids were the professors and their education was on the streets where the tricks of the trade were passed from peer to peer. At the beginning there were no commercial ambitions- the practitioners had yet to find a way to monetize their art. It was just about rising above the everyday struggle by creating something beautiful and spreading it throughout the streets.
Art is empowering. It let’s you create and define your own world. When the realization of this occurs on a collective level, like with graffiti in 1970s New York, art is injected with an energy and enthusiasm that is highly intoxicating and convincing. Similarly, a lot of Native Americans today latch on to art as a source of optimism and tool for change.

I’m writing these words with one particular artist in mind: Steven Paul Judd. Few people embodies the DIY – attitude like Judd. He embarked on his artistic trajectory when trying to find some nice Native art to hang in his house. He failed to find anything that corresponded to his taste for pop art, so he simply set to work making some himself.

 

It is no accident that Judd has close ties to graffiti culture. But labelling Judd just a graffiti artist would be reductive. Creativity just pours out of him and into every facet and category of art. This guy is just pure inspiration, in the truest sense of the word. He has no proper education in the arts so he doesn’t always know the ”hows”, he just knows that he has to do it. And a lot of the times, Youtube tutorials will get you where you need to go. The quote in the title to this piece, of course, comes from Steven Paul Judd. And the mentality of going for it runs through his entire practice of art.

Not least it applies to his approach to historical iconography. Judd quite often uses familiar imagery but in a way as to make it more Native-centric. He uses art to create his own alternate version of pop-culture, for instance by fusing historical Native American iconography with the world of Star Wars, or by recasting superheroes such as The Hulk as Native American. Claiming your space in this way, despite what history and the powers that be say, is a deeply graffiti-like attitude.

In an interview Judd talks about his creative process in a way that seems to be representative of his energy and eagerness to get things done. Recently, Judd has been creating portraits of Sitting Bull, composed entirely out of Rubik’s Cubes. Which is like building a complicated puzzle, with smaller puzzles for pieces. The initial plan was to mount it on the wall but he finished the puzzle before he had figured out a way to fasten the cubes on the wall. So he just let the cubes lay on the floor, the art work now an installation rather than a wall piece.

If there’s a will there’s a way, I believe is the accurate motivational phrase here.
To continue in this vein of self-improvement, let us sum up by making it a rule that whenever you feel that things are just too damn hard, ask yourself: what would Steven Paul Judd do? If the conclusion you come up with is not “Okay, I think I can do that”, you’re doing it wrong.

Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World

The 28th edition of Stockholm International Film Festival starts tomorrow and there is one film in particular I would really like to see. It is a documentary called “Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World”. The film explores the contribution of Native Americans to the evolution and history of rock and roll. As is evidenced by the many accounts from Rock and Roll superstars in the film, such as Steve van Zandt, Steven Tyler and Iggy Pop, Native American rock has had a significant influence on many popular musicians. Rarely has this influence been spelled out as specifically Indian, however, or contextualized in a coherent story about Native Americanness. The idea for the film came from Native American Stevie Salas who has himself been a professional musician for decades and played for many for big names. He knew the industry was full of Indians who were really influential but that not many people knew about outside the industry. For four years the filmmakers collected accounts from Native American musicians and other artists who had one way or another been influenced by rock by Native Americans.

Many of the rockers interviewed for the film talk about one track in particular: Link Wray’s Rumble from 1958. The track has a riff that Stevie Van Zandt calls “The Sexiest, toughest chord change in all of Rock and Roll”. In that chord change lay the foundation to the history of Rock and Roll and one can easily trace it through the sound of The Who, Black Sabbath, Stooges among countless others.

To get an idea of the monumental impact of the track you only need to watch as Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page puts it on and gets so overcome by its power that he cannot refrain from busting out some air riffs along to it.

 

Rumble has had a pop-cultural impact that stretches beyond the world of music. Film buffs may remember Wray’s tune as an indispensable addition to the mood of Pulp Fiction.  The song appears during the famous (well, aren’t pretty much all scenes from Pulp Fiction famous) diner scene during which John Travolta and Uma Thurman have their “uncomfortable silence”. Since the dialogue is here put on hold for a large part the music is what primarily carries the scene.

“Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World” is directed by Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana and has earned numerous awards from other film festivals. Tomorrow November 8, it can be seen at Stockholm Film Festival at 7 pm. There are additional screenings on November 12 and 16.

We the People

A lot of the issues, artists and news that have been covered on the blog this past spring and summer have now been collected in an exhibition at the Minnesota Museum of American Art. Called “We The People”, the exhibition investigates just what constitutes the American nation, and who are being excluded, at this point in history. It’s not just about the Native American experience but it is a big part of it. Among the Native American subjects that are tackled are Standing Rock, cultural appropriation and social consciousness in general.

Marlena Myles Dakota 38 + 2 Prayer Horse
Marlena Myles Dakota 38 + 2 Prayer Horse

Any believable approach to contemporary identity has to include the digital realm. Some of the work included in the exhibition seem to directly concern art’s relation to social media. For those thirsting for information, there is a lot to be found on the internet. But the tempo on social media is dizzying fast and one thing, or hashtag, is quickly replaced by another. Can art interface with this rapidity or is it doomed to always be one step behind? The exhibition offers two answers from two different art works. Marlena Myles’ “Dakota 38 + 2 Prayer Horse” is technically and aesthetically a very pleasing piece of work. But thematically it seems to arrive too late. Myles has taken the controversy of Sam Durant’s planned sculpture “Scaffold” at Minneapolis Sculpture Park as her subject. But as the conflict has already been elegantly resolved the painting has turned sadly obsolete and irrelevant.

Cannupa Hanska "The Weapon is Sharing (This Machine Kills Fascists)" from http://www.cannupahanska.com
Cannupa Hanska ”The Weapon is Sharing (This Machine Kills Fascists)” from http://www.cannupahanska.com

Cannupa Hanska has another approach. He was a notable presence at the protests at Standing Rock and his “The Weapon Is Sharing (This Machine Kills Fascists)” (2017) follows up on those protests. Like Myles’ painting this is thus a highly topical work but it manages to transcend the specific to make a comment on the nature of digital documentation in general. Hanska has recreated cellphones out of clay and printed photographs from the protests at Standing Rock onto them. He thereby gives them permanence beyond the momentary and ephemeral. At the same time, the mimicking of historical artefacts will infiltrate the archives with a narrative of resistance and protest. Cannupa Hanska’s eloquent explanation is worth quoting:

These objects mirror the decayed aesthetic of the artifact to inspire institutions who collect our sacred objects to embed this narrative into their basements and cabinets, letting these pieces join our relatives, so that our ancestors may know what we as Indigenous peoples are currently experiencing. Much as we update our statuses on social media for the current world know our stories, these objects utilize a visual language from our contemporary communication, translating into a literal form of talking to our ancestors. Confined in museums and private collections, the ancestors of all nations are close to each other, communicating and creating alliance in dark caverns, as a pooling of medicines which is reflected in our contemporary gatherings such as at Standing Rock. This work aims to let them know how we are hearing them, and we are connecting.

The exhibition is curated by four people with different backgrounds, and besides a strong Native presence the curators weigh heavily on LGBTQ themes, and issues of African American identities.

It seems like an important exhibition and I wish I could visit but it’s a little off the beaten path for me.

The exhibition runs August 17 – October 29, 2017.