August 20, 2011

"The Americana Indian"

‘Americana’ shows Native American images in pop culture

Images often fictionalized, narrow view of Native people

By Sena Christian
“The Americana Indian: American Indians in the American Imagination” is currently on display at the Maidu Museum and Historic Site and runs through Nov. 30. Baker will give a talk during the 3rd Saturday art walk Aug. 20.

Composed of seven major themes, the exhibit highlights the powerful characteristics of the Americana Indian that have been embedded into popular culture and commerce. Baker aims to show how these representations convey a narrow and singular message about Native Americans.

In many ways, these fictionalized, commercial representations erase their identities and mock their cultures, he said.

The collection features more than 100 items such as advertisements, board games, toys, dolls, sports paraphernalia, soda bottles, food packaging and more.
Some examples of how stereotypical Native images indoctrinate Americans:One item, in the museum, is a sign with the sentence: “Indians roamed in the area for thousands of years.” Baker describes “roam” as a politically and culturally charged term in the narrative of discovery that attempts to claim Native Americans didn’t settle the land.

A board game on display, called “Go-Together,” has children match cards by identifying the correct relationship between objects—and in the process, socializes these kids, Baker said.

For instance, one card shows a war-dancing, wild Indian wielding a tomahawk and wearing a feathered headdress. The card it matches? A teepee.

“The Indian is not associated with a bathtub, a school, a worksite,” Baker said.

Advertisements for shoes, cigarettes and nail polish depict Native American squaws or princesses as highly sexualized objects. An Indian War Bonnet Kit shows people how to “play Indian.”

These representations reduce Native people to objects, Baker said. For instance, the exhibit notes how Ishi, the “last wild Indian,” became an object of scientific study and inquiry. After dying from tuberculosis, he was decapitated and his bran removed for examination.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Indian Toys and Games and Indian Kitsch Collection.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A lot of it is where you are. But practically everywhere I've lived, Indians are turned into mascots for local (and not-so-local) businesses.