September 03, 2013

The Last American Indian on Earth

Performance Artist Explores Stereotypes In 'The Last American Indian On Earth'

By Katherine BrooksImagine a man dressed in stereotypically "traditional" Native American garb, donning a massive white feathered headdress, an ornamental tunic, and face paint. Now imagine that man performing mundane tasks in Washington, DC, like grocery shopping, riding an escalator or having lunch at a local restaurant.

What is your reaction?

The bizarre quandary is put forth by performance artist Gregg Deal, a member of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe originally based in northwestern Nevada. In a striking film project titled "The Last American Indian on Earth," Deal dresses himself in purposefully questionable attire and goes about his daily business, daring passersby to confront their own preexisting ideas about the modern Native American person.

"The purpose of this project is to raise questions about Native people, often viewed as a relic, and how they're perceived in the modern age," Deal explains in a press statement about the work. "How will [people] react if they saw me, a Native dressed in buckskin and a headdress, doing something as mundane as shopping for cereal at the grocery store? How will they react if they saw me eating Chinese food in China Town or taking pictures of buffalo at the National Zoo?"
Comment:  In a video, Deal questions a black man who made a "yi-yi-yi" sound when he saw Deal. The man says he can't be a racist because the Washington Redskins are his team. *headdesk*

Another Native artist else did something similar to this, I think. He stood somewhere, alternated between traditional and modern clothes, and observed how people posed with him for pictures. Inevitably they wanted to pose with the traditional Indian, not the modern one.

For more on challenging Native art, see Vanishing Cultures Photography Project and Make It Pop Skewers Misappropriation.

No comments: