August 29, 2012

N.D.N.: Native Diaspora Now

"N.D.N.: Native Diaspora Now": Artists Reveal the Humor in Native Life

By Jonathan CurielLet's say you're watching a documentary about Native Americans, or reading a book about Native Americans, or attending an art exhibit about Native Americans. Here's what you likely won't be doing: Laughing out loud. Traditional narratives of Native American history are steeped in tragedy.

But something funny happened in the 21st century: A new generation began articulating a more irreverent view of its position in a contemporary society that treated Native Americans with contempt and awe.
And:The most amusing work at "N.D.N.: Native Diaspora Now" is Spencer Keeton Cunningham's Chief Ramen Heart, which incorporates acrylic and spray paints, a pack of American Spirits, and, yes, ramen noodles to portray a cartoonish Native American. X-ray style, we see the figure has a hamburger in his brain, cigarettes by his throat, and ramen over his heart. With his spindly (almost monstrous) fingers, he appears to be plucking a black arrow that has pierced his head and the burger. It's gross and amusing.

Cunningham and Castaneda are members of the Indigenous Arts Coalition, a Bay Area organization started in 2008 that advocates for Native American artists and provided the work at GalerĂ­a de la Raza. Other highlights at "N.D.N.: Native Diaspora Now" include Nizhoni Ellenwood's Pop Zack Rabbit, a dignified painting of Ellenwood's recently deceased father; Geri Montano's Unveiled Valor, a dramatic vision of a naked, pigtailed girl in high heels who, with an arrow, seems to have fended off a sex attacker; and Castaneda's Double Speak, a video where young Native Americans talk about the daily pressures they face, from non-Native Americans (racism is a central theme), their own tribespeople (elitism based on skin color and tribal affiliation is a theme), and their own expectations of what it means to be Native American.
Comment:  For more on modern Native art, see Ironworker Cradleboard in Changing Hands and Veregge's Superhero "Totems."

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