Academic journal article Social Justice

Hybridity as a Strategy for Self-Determination in Contemporary American Indian Art

Academic journal article Social Justice

Hybridity as a Strategy for Self-Determination in Contemporary American Indian Art

Article excerpt

IN HER ESSAY TITLED "'BORDER' STUDIES" THE INTERSECTION OF GENDER AND COLOR," Paula Gunn Allen (Laguna Pueblo/Sioux/Lebanese) describes the road to self-determination for oppressed peoples: "The way to liberation from oppression is to focus on one's own interests, creativity, concerns, and community" (1995: 43). Self-determination, the right of a community of people to determine their own political, economic, and cultural systems, continues to be of primary concern for many American Indians, and this concern is clearly reflected in contemporary American Indian art. In its mission statement, Atlatl, a national organization established in 1977 to support indigenous artists of the Americas, states that it "promotes the vitality of contemporary Native American art through self-determination in cultural expression" (www.atlatl.org). Atlatl's objective reflects the artistic goals of many contemporary American Indian artists, in which the subject of self-determination is regularly examined and explored. Indeed, American Indian artists working from the 1990s to the present have consistently created politically charged art in an effort to define American Indian culture on its own terms. These artists use a variety of strategies to (re)define their traditions, values, and cultural identities, from celebrating indigenous cultures and values to exploring the meaning of sovereignty and nationhood for Indian peoples within the United States, while exposing institutional oppression that prevents indigenous peoples from achieving their ultimate goal of self-determination. One strategy for self-determination that gained prominence in the 1990s is that of engaging the postcolonial concept of hybridity. In this essay, I will consider the ways in which a key group of contemporary American Indian artists have explored hybridity as a vehicle for the redefinition not only of themselves as individuals, but also of their culture as a whole.

Theories of Hybridity

Renato Rosaldo (1995: xi) provides a useful definition of hybridity: "Hybridity can be understood as the ongoing condition of all human cultures, which contain no zones of purity because they undergo continuous processes of transculturation (two-way borrowing and lending between cultures)." Robert Young (1995) historicizes the term in Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Theory, Culture and Race, explaining that the concept of hybridity was firmly established in the 19th century to describe miscegenation and the creolization of language. Hybridization became the concern of biologists, sociologists, and anthropologists alike, in which nomenclature such as syncretism in religion, fusion in music, and creolization of language was employed to describe specific types of cultural contact. But Young (Ibid.: 5) points out that terms such as syncretism and creolization do not adequately consider cultural contact as a process of "interaction and counter-interaction" between dominant and traditional cultures because they tend to emphasize assimilation into the dominant culture or the continued isolation of traditional cultural groups. Similarly, in Hybrid Cultures: Strategies for Entering and Leaving Modernity, Nestor Garcia Canclini (1995: xxxiv) explains that these terms "are generally used to refer to traditional processes or to the survival of premodern customs and forms of thought in the early modern period." This limitation is significant for Garcia Canclini, who is specifically concerned with the meeting of cultures at the marketplace and under the constraints of the culture industry. For this reason, Garcia Canclini (Ibid.) believes that "the word hybridization seems more ductile for the purpose of naming not only the mixing of ethnic or religious elements but the productions of advanced technologies and modern or postmodern social processes."

In Hybridity and Its Discontents, Avtar Brah and Annie Coombes (2000: 1) recognize the now pervasiveness of hybridity as a "key concept in cultural criticism, in post-colonial studies, in debates about cultural contestation and appropriation, and in relation to the concept of the border and the ideal of cosmopolitanism. …

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