Separating Fact From Fiction
Contemporary Native American art is taking a stand against prejudice and stereotype. Embedded within mainstream culture are notions and beliefs about American Indians that simply aren’t true. Movies like Pocahontas reinforce idealized concepts of the Native American lifestyle that are now being challenged by contemporary American Indian artists.
A recent exhibit in Portland Oregon sought to break these misconceptions by portraying the real life of modern day Native Americans. This exhibit compares the work of early 1900’s artist Edward Curtis against the contemporary American Indian art from Zig Jackson, Wendy Red Star and Will Wilson.
Curtis’ work has been criticized for it’s romanticized and idealized portrayal of the Native American life. Some say that his work was strategically constructed to display a vision of tribal life before European explorers came to the Americas. Native American artists of today are taking the opposite approach when sharing their stories. Instead of seeking to romanticize tribal life of the past, they are showing life as it is today. Zig Jackson, for example, examines the stereotype of the “noble savage” in his exhibit “Indian Photographing Tourist Photographing Indian.” Jackson challenges the notion that Native Americans are exotic subjects that should be studied as foreign objects.
Will Wilson’s art is also a direct response to the work of Curtis. He seeks to replace the non-native perspective found in Curtis’ work, with the viewpoint of indigenous Native American people. In his pictures, he asks subjects to pick objects to be photographed with that are important to them. In one picture, an iPad is chosen, thus Wilson adds individual personality to his art.
The work of Wendy Red Star also takes an aim at destroying stereotypes. As revealed in the following quote, her goal is to bring a voice to truth that’s been lost behind presumption and stereotype: “Everything is from the conqueror’s perspective…native history has been basically erased. And this show helps to bring that perspective back in focus.”
Southwest Artist Preserves Dignity and Unity Through His Paintings
American Indian artists seek to redefine their role and perceptions in society by challenging stereotypes in artwork. There are many stylistic approaches, but the overall goal is still to restore honor and truth where it has been lost in misconception. John Nieto’s works strive for this approach. To see current paintings of Native American art and southwest art for sale, visit his online art gallery here at www.nietofineart.com.