It’s winter in Colorado. You walk into the residency space at the Denver Art Museum [DAM], and there stands artist Gregg Deal; he’s tall with slicked-back hair pulled tightly into a ponytail. He’s surrounded by his work, and also some props – a feather headdress, a long breastplate, and shirt and pants with fringe.
Deal, who’s Pyramid Lake Paiute and a performance artist, said, as part of his art, he will don the faux Native American items in public to address the concept – or misconception – of Native Americans in the 21st century. Deal is the current Native Arts Artist-in-Residence at DAM.
Recently, for one of his performances, Deal sat within a barricade outside of the museum clad in his Native American clothing and face paint. He said he was approached by passersby who were visibly curious why there was an Indian just posted there. Some ignored him. Some sneered. Others attempted to engage him. But he said he would not respond. When he’s in the attire he’s in character – a figure in a living painting, if you will.
Artist Gregg Deal dressed in his Native American attire during a performance piece outside of the Denver Art Museum in 2015. Photo courtesy Facebook.com
Deal, who, in the 1990s was a graffiti artist, said that he knows performance pieces are not new, and he went on to cite artist James Luna's work where Luna "museumized himself" and put himself on display.
"I think the museumized aspect of it comes naturally as part of American culture," Deal said.
ICTMN Culture Editor Simon Moya-Smith, who was there slowly wandering about the room, eyeing the art on the walls, began to query Deal about this idea of repurposing cultural appropriation.
Moya-Smith: "So you are culturally appropriating cultural appropriation?"
Deal: "Sure, I mean why not? These things are going to be out there anyways. Why can't we have some control over it and create a narrative or a conversation to go along with it? I respect the guys that came before me and who are still doing it."
Moya-Smith: "What makes your [art] different?"
Deal: "It's the time. I mean social media plays a part in it and the way you can document things. I can strap a GoPro camera to my chest and nobody sees it and I can document what happens there. Ten years ago, you wouldn't have been able to do that."
An art piece on sports mascots and cultural appropriation by Gregg Deal on display at the Denver Art Museum. Photo by Jonathan Wheelhouse.
DAM Art Curator John Lukavic told ICTMN that he first learned of Deal on social media, specifically Instagram, and that Deal's work "evokes emotion, like it or hate it."
The Native Arts Artist-in-Residence program, which was launched in 2011, has housed a number of indigenous artists, including Walt Pourier, Rose Simpson, and Jeffery Gibson. In February, ribbonwork artist Jan Jacobs, Osage, will be the museum's artist-in-residence through May. This summer, the museum will host its first Powwow Regalia Studio where six artists, recognized for their skill at creating powwow regalia, will be invited to work in the residence studio for two weeks. The six artists will be chosen by March, according to a press release by the museum.
In the meantime, Deal continues to prod and poke at cultural appropriation with his art pieces and public performances at the museum. To learn more about the Denver Art Museum Native Arts Artist-in-Residence Program, go to denverartmuseum.org.
Watch this video of Deal talking about his art: