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What is Native American art?

Posted by Christopher Shea  October 20, 2009 10:42 AM

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prototype23.jpg
Prototype for New Understanding # 23

What kind of materials would you expect a Native American artist who lives in Vancouver to work with--whale bone, feathers, wood?

Brian Jungen, a 39-year-old artist and (via his mother's side of the family) a member of the Dunne-za First Nation, in British Columbia, plays with public expectations about "Native" art is or should be. He has sawed apart white-plastic lawn chairs of the sort you might find on sale at Home Depot and crafted them into a remarkable semblance of a whale skeleton, in the process merging Western disposable culture with an icon of coastal Native American life. Likewise, he turns green industrial waste bins into the carapace of a giant turtle. He fashions a noble, totemic-seeming sculpture of an Indian chief-- out of Wilson and Rawlings baseball gloves.

In pieces done under the common title "Prototype for New Understanding," Jungen has created objects that bear a striking resemblance to the colorful, intricate masks made by the native peoples of the Pacific Northwest. But he makes them out of deconstructed Air Jordans. Which are, you come to realize, works of considerable decorative art in themselves.

Jurgen's show opened October 16, at the National Museum of the American Indian, and runs through next summer.

The location of the exhibit is notable, because the Museum of the American Indian has been known to embrace precisely the sorts of clichés that Jungen prefers to undermine: for example, the notion that there is an essence of Indian-ness in the first place, and that Native Americans, by definition and descent, have a privileged relationship with nature.

Via the Washington Post

(Photo credit: Brian Jungen)

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