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Art, Decolonized, in 2014: 4 Shows, a Photo Project, a Film and the Battle for Santa Fe

Alex Jacobs looks back at the exhibitions, works, and markets that embodied the spirit of decolonization in the art world in 2014.
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Colonization takes many forms and so does de-colonization, this has been a major talking point in all areas Native and has moved from conference breakouts to national TV debates about the Redskins name. Of course the nature of (de)colonization is that many times, most people don’t know what it is when they are seeing it or even living it. Artists have been among the first to incorporate this dialogue into their work.

'William Wilson, citizen of the Navajo Nation, trans customary Dine artist,' tintype by William Wilson from CIPX series.

Re-Imaging the Past

Taking on the legacy of Edward S. Curtis is always fun because everyone starts from the same place, but who gets left behind and who goes forward? University of Arizona has Regarding Curtis: Contemporary Indian Artists Respond to Curtis Imagery; and Dine’ photographer Will Wilson has his ongoing CIPX series - Critical Indigenous Photographic Exchange in which Natives and non-Natives use old-school photographic methods to make their own Curtis style self-portraits.

The debris that was 'The Barrymore,' a sculpture in Cannupa Hanska Luger's 'Stereotypes' project.

Breaking Stuff in the Present

A 2013 installation and sculpture-smashing performance by Cannupa Hanska Luger begat the 2014 film This Is a Stereotype—a video documentary coming to a classroom near you.

Kent Monkman, Fisher River Band Cree, Lot’s Wife, 2012. Fiberglass, Styrofoam, wood, taxidermy deer, artificial grass, video projection. Gift from Vicki and Kent Logan to the Collection of the Denver Art Museum, 2013.71. Photo courtesy Elaine Stocki of the Winnipeg Art Gallery

The Odd Future

Denver Art Museum has an ongoing show, SOVEREIGN: Independent Voices, with Kent Monkman, Virgil Ortiz and Rose Bean Simpson. A “challenging” show for the average museum goer who is expecting a certain type of “Indian Art”.

From Beat Nation: 'Turning Tables' by Jordan Bennett, 2010. Sound installation, walnut, oak, spruce, electronics.

All of the Above

Beat Nation and Group of 7: Professional Native Indian Artists, Inc, crossed paths touring Canada and showed us exactly these issues going back in time and into the future. PNIAI helped to initiate all the political debates because as a Salon de Refuse they were not allowed access to galleries and markets because Native Art was regarded as unsophisticated. Some of us call it Rez Art, but it’s also pure Indian soul art, that doesn't necessarily react to political issues, it was just ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’. Beat Nation features a hip hop culture and media installations and is very modern but are our youth demonstrating colonization by pop culture or empowering themselves by controlling all its aspects?

Painting created by Kevin Red Star at the live painting event held at the inaugural Indigenous Fine Art Market in Santa Fe.

The Battle for Santa Fe

And then there's the SWAIA-IFAM Schism. One day we may look back at this as a true historical schism; or we may come to see it as, really, no big thing—because it’s just the way it’s supposed to be. The younger (and some not so young) generation split from SWAIA and proved that another Indian Art Market could work. SWAIA is truly huge in many ways but it also limits artists and the IFAM group wanted more control of their time, identity and art. You can say SWAIA is “more traditional” but the restrictions have been chafing native artists for years. There is an aspect of de-colonization in Who is defining and regulating what Indian Art is? If Santa Fe is truly the center of Indian Art, then it can handle more Markets and more access by more Indian Artists. Most people I’ve talked to think that SWAIA and IFAM are complementary Markets and we will all soon get over the initial shock of the new

Alex Jacobs
Santa Fe, NM
January 13, 2015