What is Native American art for you? Most of the time, you have been to repetitive exhibitions where Native American art consists in displaying painted cloth (ledger art), jewellery or woodcarving. Most of the time, you have felt like you were witnessing tokens of a primitive and fossilized civilisation that has now disappeared.
Here at UMA, we’d like to draw your attention to the contemporary Native American artistic scene, which is still very much alive and creating. Our short selection tries to give an idea of the way art and activism go hand in hand for many contemporary Native American artists.
Here, Linda Haukaas (Sicangu Lakota) makes her claim by re-appropriating the traditional art form of ledger art (or painting on cloth or paper) to subvert it: she depicts colourful community scenes on a piece of used paper. Behind the silhouettes, you can read lines of Western accounting. The superimposition can be interpreted to stand for the usurping of Indian land by settlers and later, the American state with its economic traps and intricacies. But Haukaas also means to distance herself from a sacralised artistic tradition by injecting in it a form of modernity: numbers on paper, crushed under human forms.
Frank Buffalo Hyde (Onondaga) has an even clearer statement. His colourful paintings show a cartoon dimension that leads to caricaturing the impact modern American society has on Native lifestyle and modes of belief. He seeks to underline the gap between this lifestyle and the modern imagery of the United States, by mixing fear with comedy in a very effective instance of the darkest humour.
Both artists remain faithful to tribal history and Native imagery while casting an unforgiving look on the damage caused to tribal nations, promoting a humanly and politically committed form of art.