Visualizing Decolonization in Contemporary Indigenous Art
Garner, Anne A.
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Since the early decades of the twentieth century, Native American artists in the United States have had a critical role in the discourse of decolonization. Based on an analysis of activist Indigenous art developed within a neocolonial milieu and audience responses to this art as available, I investigate methods through which Native American artists structure the discourse of decolonization and potentially redefine social relations in a Third Space configuration. A foundational premise of my methodology outlined in the Introduction is that art practice is a form of research and theorizing that is based on relationships between the artist, the cultural site of production, the image and the audience or community. In this context, my analysis is not conceptualized within a Eurowestern art historical aesthetic framework located within the concerns of modernism or post-modernism but instead privileges Indigenous methodologies of historical recovery, cultural continuity and reclamation of ancestral land inscribed within the constructs of an Indigenous worldview. In Part I, Chapter One, I propose that the ethnographic representations of the Studio Style negotiated with both assimilationist policies of erasure and the demands of pluralistic audiences to counter the effects of contact visual imagery of savagism and absence, with a focus on Oscar Howe's (Yanktonai Sioux) efforts to liberate Native American art from colonial control and modernist interpretation. Chapter Two is a discussion of the critical influence of Red Power, AIM and the IAIA on cultural revitalization reflected in the decolonizing work of Fritz Scholder (Luiseno). In Part II, Chapters Three to Six, I address strategic place-specific, public installations that interact with the viewer and extend Native American geopolitical space, and have included archival audience response that reveals the potential effects of this work on viewer cultural perceptions. Specifically, in Chapters Three and Four, I examine two installations by Hock E Aye VI Edgar Heap of Birds (Cheyenne-Arapaho) entitled Building Minnesota and Wheel and Jolene Rickard's (Tuscarora) Corn Blue Room in the context of an Indigenous historical paradigm, including audience response when available and some of my reactions as researcher. In Chapters Five and Six, I examine Alan Michelson's (Mohawk) installation, The Third Bank of the River and Shelley Niro's (Mohawk) Skywoman in terms of a decolonizing political positioning and cultural continuity. These place-specific installations visualize the discourse of decolonization, sovereignty, religious freedom, and pluralism that has been evolving since the early twentieth century.