June 08, 2010

Giant plastic Indians

Blogger Stephen reports on an interesting art exhibit:

Oversized Plastic Toy Indians by Yoram WolbergerThe sculpture of San Francisco based visual artist Yoram Wolberger may be bright and colorful but the meaning in each piece is profound and sincere. He takes the beloved toys of our childhood and subverts their innocence all in the name of making a point. Here is the artist profile from his website:

"Yoram Wolberger uses childhood toys and everyday domestic items to create his large scale sculptures, foregrounding the latent symbolism and cultural paradigms of these objects that so subtly inform Western culture. By enlarging this ephemera to life size, Wolberger emphasizes the distortions of their original manufacture disallowing any real illusion and conceptually forcing the viewer to reconsider their meanings. When enlarged beyond any possibility of dismissal, we see that toy soldiers create lines between Us and Them, plastic cowboys and Indians marginalize and stereotype the Other, even wedding cake bride and groom figurines dictate our expected gender roles."
Some of Stephen's thoughts on the exhibit:The Israeli born artist Yoram Wolberger has taken two of the most potent symbols of Americana, Cowboys and Indians, and revealed them for what they are- rough-edged, bloated, one-dimensional caricatures.

Wolberger brings the miniature distortions of tiny toy Indians into full scale, making their stereotypical imagery easier to grasp.

He understands the power and impact these toys had on untold millions of American children.
He wonders if people will get the message:These sculptures once again fall under that broad category of "using stereotypes to debunk/satirize stereotypes," though considering the power of the artist's own statements, he assuredly knows what he's doing.

That being said, the pessimist in me feels that there will still be people who will see these sculptures and have their stereotypes reinforced. But thankfully the artist's own words give me confidence that anyone who visits these sculptures in a gallery will never look at "Indians" the same way again.
Comment:  I think the artist's message is clear: the images, like the pieces themselves, are plastic. They aren't real. Non-Indians have molded them for their own purposes. In this case, literally as well as figuratively.

Alas, I suspect children and dumber adults won't get the message. They'll think the same thing they think when they see an Indian mascot. "Look, an Indian! It looks just like a real one!"

Fortunately, these aren't the people who usually visit museums. I think brighter adults will get the message. If nothing else, they'll read the artist's statement.

It's interesting how context affects the message. If you saw one of these pieces in a toy store, or in front of a school with a "Chiefs" mascot, you wouldn't necessarily think of it as a critique. But in a museum, the message is more clear. Art is supposed to confront and change your perceptions, and museum goers understand that.

This is one of the few contexts where someone is legitimately using stereotypes to challenge stereotypes. And even here, it's dependent on the context. If this plastic Indian were in a Toy Story movie or Dudesons episode, no, I wouldn't call it a satire. Art often satirizes, but mass-market entertainment usually doesn't.

For more on the subject, see Indian Toys and Games and "Cowboys and Indians" Images.

Below:  Red Indian Chief and Red Indian #2 (Bowman), 2005.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I don't believe Indian Chiefs wore their headdresses into battle, saving them for ceremonies. I found a package of plastic Indian toys like these but within the same package they had Indians, Totem Poles and buffalo. Did buffalo roam the Canadian border?? I think these two sculptures clearly make their point. In fact it brings up mixed feelings of joyous nostalgia and dreadful guilt leaving us with bittersweet.