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What Is It Good For? Wars at Home and Abroad Featured in MoCNA Exhibit

Wars waged with, by and on American Indians are the subject of 'War Department,' an exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Native Art in Santa Fe.
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"War Department," a newly-opened exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts (MoCNA) in Santa Fe, presents a diverse selection of works on the subject of war from the museum's collection.

Indians know about war and the War Department, as our relationship with the US Government was officially placed in this agency; generations later came the Departments of the Interior and the BIA. “Total War” may have been coined in reference to World War II, but such tactics have been used against Native Americans populations for over 500 years; the less politically correct term would be “genocide”. The piece that sets the tone for all this discussion is Floyd Solomon’s print, “Deceptus Magnus, October 12, 1492” ; it reveals the mythology of the Doctrine of Christian Discovery from which all these wars upon our peoples stem from.

Floyd Solomon, 'Deceptus Magnus: October 12, 1492' etching, 1990. Photo by Alex Jacobs.

Floyd Solomon, 'Deceptus Magnus: October 12, 1492' (detail) etching, 1990. Photo by Alex Jacobs.

Floyd Solomon, 'Deceptus Magnus: October 12, 1492' (detail) etching, 1990. Photo by Alex Jacobs.

Nanibah Chacon and Jaque Fragua have collaborated on political work for the Honor the Treaties Collective and their simple piece called “Civil.War” is loaded with questions, like: How and why do civil discourses break down into armed conflicts? Both words contain unspoken rules about how to conduct oneself. What is the dividing line between civil protest and civil war? When violence is perpetuated by those in authority or by protestors, is it a form of war? It’s installed outside on the second story right above the entrance and it will probably be missed in more ways than one.

Nani Chacon and Jaque Fragua, 'Civil War,' painting installed outside MoCNA. Photo by Alex Jacobs.

Nani Chacon and Jaque Fragua, 'Civil War,' painting installed outside MoCNA. Photo by Alex Jacobs.

It’s not just about being for or against War, as many Native communities view service in the armed forces with respect. They also have warrior/soldier/veteran ceremonies to cleanse their members from the effects of war, death and violence; these rituals are now looked on as worthy of support by government health agencies. While these veterans may be helped, Native American communities often suffer from collective and historical traumas. Outsiders point to poverty, unemployment and lack of resources as issues but such collective traumas are passed down generationally.

This painting has been dubbed 'The Boxer' and is credited to Alfred Young Man. But Young Man isn't sure he painted it. Photo by Alex Jacobs.

There is also a mystery that someone out there may help with. A painting from the IAIA permanent collection from the 60’s and attributed to Alfred Young Man, called “The Boxer”, shows Joe Louis, Nazi soldiers and political figures Lyndon Johnson and George McGovern; they reference race relations, athletic competition, war and politics. But Young Man is not certain that he painted “The Boxer”, so it has become a mystery; X-rays show an American Flag design underneath that was painted over.

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Dr. Lara Evans (Cherokee) is the first full time Native Art Historian employed at IAIA and MoCNA, she attributed her studies at Evergreen State College in Olympia WA, as providing fertile ground for research into Native American history and culture. Dr. Evans curated the show, the following comes from her statement.

“All the works in this exhibition have something to do with war, but there is very little gore or physical violence. The armed conflicts referenced in these artworks span 500 years, from the Spanish/Pueblo conquest, to World War II, Vietnam, Wounded Knee, the Mohawk/Oka Crisis, and present-day conflicts. These works… examine the nuanced depictions of war and civil unrest in contemporary Native art…they break the artificial separations between war and not-war. Soldiers are embedded in daily life, with family and friends, ceremony, policies and politics. These artists show us ways in which wars spill outside warzone boundaries, decades and even hundreds of years later. The lasting impacts of war and civil unrest are not decided by government officials in offices, but by the stories we tell and how we tell them, long after the War Department is disbanded.”

Jack Malotte, Screaming Eagle Blues, Edition 38-100, 1990 Offset Lithograph on Paper, IAIA MoCNA Collections ss-41, photo by Jason S. Ordaz

Jean Lamarr, 1989, Untitled (Cover girl), 36/96, Offset Lithograph on Paper, IAIA MoCNA Collections pu-83, photo by Jason S. Ordaz

Geronima Cruz Montoya, War Dance, 1967 tempera. Photo by Alex Jacobs.

Mateo Romero, Red Meridian, 2012, Acrylic, India Ink, China Marker on Polystyrene, IAIA MoCNA Collections CO-45, photo by Jason S. Ordaz

David Neel, 'Life on the Eighteenth Hole,' 1990 serigraph. Photo by Alex Jacobs.

Char Teters, War Makers Back in Town, 2003 monotype. Photo by Alex Jacobs.

Marie Watt, 'When More Than Knees Have Been Wounded,' 1990 etching. Photo by Alex Jacobs.

Melanie Yazzie's 1992 monotype 'Education' serves as the lead image for MoCNA's 'War Department' exhibition. Photo by Alex Jacobs.

Alex Jacobs
January 29, 2015
Santa Fe, NM