Thorne-Sagendorph Art Gallery
Keene State College
229 Main Street
Keene, New Hampshire;/br>
Through November 24
The relationship between Native American cultures and
those who collect Native American art has often been
ugly . And depictions of Native Americans are fraught, to
say the least.
Contemporary Native American artists are working to move beyond this troubled history — to reclaim Native icons and artistic conventions by bringing them into conversation with icons and artistic conventions of the larger culture. This exhibition features six artists who are engaged in this conversation.
Star Wallowing Bull’s complex and brightly colored fusions of cubism and Native
American motifs have a unique sense of both history and humor. In “A Moment
of Silence” (2004, lithograph), a stylized person, wearing a stylized mask,
grips a flower in a realistically drawn hand. While the mask looks intimidating,
a more careful view leads to intriguing questions. Why is the figure wearing a
clown hat and ruff? Can we be sure that is a mask?
While no definitive answers are forthcoming, the overall impression is comic
rather than tragic. The companion piece, “My Three Sisters” (2004, lithograph),
imparts a similar mood. Three women sternly meet the viewer’s gaze in the
foreground. Amid iconic Native American imagery, a stray blimp floats in the
These two pieces, simultaneously grounded in ancient American and modern European artistic conventions, epitomize the condition of contemporary indigenous peoples, many of whom must weave a single identity out of their relationships to pre-contact ancestors and to the modern world in which they live. The process is complicated not only by conflicted cultural insulation, but also by the alternately romanticized and acrimonious perceptions non-Natives have of Native cultures. In Wallowing Bull’s work, these multiple convolutions are made beautiful — not by being superficially beautified, but by being fully and fearlessly assimilated.
Layered pieces by Steven Deo take a cerebral approach to the same issues. “Principle of Identity” (2004, lithograph) incorporates a definition of the Principle of Identity along with diagrams of a microscope, loom and steam locomotive; these are hauntingly superimposed on