SANTA FE — Sponge Bob Square Pants, Pac Man and Curious George, all sporting a particularly Native American twist, are just a few images from popular mainstream culture seen in the exhibition, Into the Future: Culture Power in Native American Art.
Featuring nearly 100 objects by more than fifty artists from the museum’s collections as well as others borrowed from collectors and artists, the work on view in Into the Futurewill be in such various media as traditional clothing and jewelry, pottery and weaving, photography and video, through to comics, and on into cyberspace.
The free to the public opening for Into the Future: Culture Power in Native American Art is 1-4 p.m., July 17 at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture and runs through Oct. 22, 2017.
“Culture Power”, in the exhibition’s title, is defined by exhibition curator Valerie Verzuh, as the unique power bestowed upon objects by a culture’s stories, traditions, and emotions – objects which define ourselves, our communities, and the world around us – and, in turn, determine how we interpret and understand others.
When Native artists reinterpret popular Western imagery through the lens of these culture stories the collision of meanings provides a springboard for often pointed commentary upon issues of identity, culture, and history. And, says Verzuh, these reimagined images elicit intense emotions, “As power resides both in the mind of the viewer and in the objects themselves. Having the authority to control objects and their meanings correlates with the power to define and control personal and cultural identities.”
Using humor, as a reaction to otherwise serious issues, serves an important role in tribal cultures, for instance the widespread Trickster tradition and Pueblo clown societies. In Into the Future we see work by artists who find the comic book aesthetic expresses perfectly their message. Turning the mainstream narrative on its head and re-interpreting it through the Native cultural lens, Larry McNeil’s “Tonto” in Tlingit-Nisga’a is transformed from a “dimwitted sidekick to the hero,” Jonathan Loretto’s, Star War Figure with Ray Gun is a Cochiti Storyteller “Bobble Head” figure, and Theo Tso developedCaptain Paiute the Indigenous Avenger of the Southwest, “…after noticing that there weren’t any comics that were written, drawn or even created by Native Americans!”
Ecological destruction and the Native’s belief of the interconnectedness of all living things is the subject of some artists’ work, like Frank Buffalo Hyde’s, Buffalo Fields Forever: To Infinity and Beyond, on the decimation of the buffalo instilling his unique brand of biting humor. Others illuminate the depredations, revolt, and reoccupation of the Spanish expeditions, like Jason Garcia’s Tewa Tales of Suspense, Fred Kabotie’sThe 1680 Pueblo Revolt at Hopi, and Diego Romero’s Don’t Shoot Diego and Siege of Santa Fe.
Also featured in Into the Future: Culture Power in Native American Art, are Linda Aguilar, Keri Ataumbi, David Bradley, Ricardo Cate, Orlando Dugi, Jody Folwell, Susan Folwell and Les Namingha, Harry Fonseca, Dorothy Grant, Teri Greeves, Bob Haozous, Melissa Henry, Lisa Holt and Harlan Reano, Maria and Julian Martinez, Dallin Maybe, Jamie Okuma, Virgil Ortiz, Pat Pruitt, Cara Romero, Ramoncita Sandoval, Preston Singletary, Margaret Tafoya, Denise Wallace, Ken Williams, Will Wilson, and Bethany Yellowtail, among others.
Into the Future: Culture Power in Native American Art celebrates the vitality of contemporary Native North American communities. So when you see a “Native” Sponge Bob Square Pants living life out loud on the ocean’s bottom, Pac Man chomping through an imagined game world, and Curious George’s adventures in the big city, know that by redefining mainstream objects and their associated meanings, Native artists assure that their culture is both integrated into that of the world at large and proudly separate from it.