Sunday, October 11, 2009

"The Feather Series" An Indigenous View of Columbus Day

The first image, 1491, symbolizes the future that never was- what would have happened had we evolved without outside interference? On the American continent we had sophisticated astronomical calendars more accurate than our European counterparts, large cities, a holistic approach to taking care of the Earth, high art that epitomizes the creativity that humanity is capable of producing, the beginnings of the use of metal, including gold, copper and iron (Yes, iron. Many arrogant Western anthropologists still don't acknowledge this fact), etc. I found myself simply wondering how humanity would have evolved had the humans indigenous to the Americas been allowed to continue to evolve without European interference. Can you imagine a world not in the midst of a human- induced ecological melt-down?

"1492" represents the legacy of death that Columbus brought to an entire continent that witnessed the murder, or genocide of untold millions of humans over 500 years. This ranks as one of the largest genocidal practices in the history of humanity that dwarfs all the wars, including the Nazi's genocidal practices. Entire indigenous Nations were murdered and survivors relegated to barren, desolate regions and deprived of their livelihoods. Our people are still dying today, right this moment as a consequence of their ancestors' first contact with the foreigners.

"Elders" is an homage to the people who have carried the gift of tradition over the years. Our Elders recognized that simply surviving was not enough. With love and humor, they have taught us that each individual has the responsibility to make this world a better place.

"Circle of Rebirth" is in homage to fellow Native Americans who struggle, often against incredible odds, to maintain their identity, to continue the circle of life.

"1992" represents the future denied us in 1491- a reminder that indigenous people still have a future that we can make our own. All of humanity for that matter. I like to think of it as kind of like a photograph on a blank page for you to fill in with how you imagine yourself to be.

I used a feather as a metaphor for indigenous identity and really love it that the media is black & white film because it referenced the world culture of 1992 so well.

Back in 1992
, the 500 year anniversary date of when Columbus arrived on the shores of the Americas, a group of artists were asked by Theresa Harlan to participate in the Message Carriers exhibition that was graciously hosted by the Photographic Resource Center at Boston University.

Theresa remains one of the most thoughtful curators I've met, but I quite literally thought to myself "F*ck that, Columbus can rot in the hole where the Creator flushed him." I'd just as soon forget the person that started the 500 (517 to be exact) year blueprint for genocidal practices for an entire continent of people.

On the other hand, there was going to be a flurry of nauseating Columbus adoration going on that was going to last almost the entire year. He went on to glory the cover of just about all the major magazines that year, much to the disgust of indigenous people. I rethought her proposal and started experimenting with a series of photographs about my interpretation of the Columbus Quincentennial.

Theresa Harlan was a former Director of Exhibitions and installations for American Indian Contemporary Arts in San Francisco, and a curator at the C.N. Gorman Museum at UC Davis for many years. She also wrote a very intelligent and insightful essay on Indigenous Photography titled Creating a Visual History: A Question of Ownership for the Aperture series of Photographic Journals; issue #139 Strong Hearts in the spring of 1995.

Message Carriers featured the work of Hulleah J.Tsinhnahjinnie, Patricia Deadman, Zig Jackson, James Luna, Jolene Rickard, Richard Ray Whitman, Carm Little Turtle, and myself. I would put forth the reasoning that the art from these artists has stood the test of time, and they continue to make significant art that is relevant to not only our times, but for how future generations will view humanity. Especially for how not only scholars, but people in general view our shared histories.

In my opinion, The Feather Series needs to be in museum collections where the public can get a more balanced view of what Columbus means to the people indigenous to the Americas and all peoples of the world. It needs to be in the ICP collection, the Met, and so on. What about the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain? Do you think they have the huevos? Come on, I'll give you a special Columbus Day deal. I realize that I'm not on their acquisition committee radar screens and suspect that some of them may not dig what I have to say with my art, but who knows? Maybe some are in search of enlightenment.

The Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha owns a set of the entire series. Hey, let's go to Omaha for Columbus Day and see The Feather Series! It is only fitting, as it is in the proverbial heartland. Fire up those Rez cars, lets go, man. I've got some steaming coffee brewing...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

great work Larry. Good Luck with placing it in the met ;)