Media Resistance and Resiliency Revealed in Contemporary Native Art: Implications for Art Educators

By Pauly, Nancy | Journal of Cultural Research in Art Education (Online), January 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Media Resistance and Resiliency Revealed in Contemporary Native Art: Implications for Art Educators


Pauly, Nancy, Journal of Cultural Research in Art Education (Online)


Historic and contemporary media misrepresentations of Native North American people in visual/popular culture-such as Edward Curtis's photographs, Wild West Shows, exhibits in museums, Boy Scout and school enactments, art, literature, toys, cartoons, and 'Indian" sports mascots-have been linked with culture narratives and discourses of meaning and power that have been used to justify colonization, aggression, oppression, and assimilation of Native American people. Increasingly, contemporary Native American artists are actively critiquing and resisting these narratives and discourses - challenging them through production of artwork using their own personal, communal, or cultural values and aesthetics. This counter-storytelling as a form of cultural resiliency allows artists to "brush history against the grain" (Benjamin, 1968, p. 257); that is, to affirm their own histories and to (re)construct and dignify' "the cultural experiences that make up the tissue, texture, and history7 of their daily lives" (Giroux, 2003, p. 51).

Drawing from the scholarship of contemporary-' Native American art educators, art historians, art critics, artists and their allies, and critical pedagogy frameworks (Tavin, 2003), this article articulates way's to examine media representations in contemporary Native art using historical contexts and Indigenous aesthetics and worldviews. The tenus "Native" and "Indigenous" are used throughout this paper in addition to the terms "American" and "Indian," which reflect a colonial legacy7 with regard to people indigenous to North America. I have included tribal affiliations when authors self-identify. This paper offers a lens through which teachers can engage with their students in the study' of contemporary artwork, stories, and aesthetics as described by Native American artists or as interpreted by Indigenous art historians or museum curators. These artworks interrupt traditional colonial narratives though re-story ing/ counterstorytelling methods using images and narrati ves to foreground Indigenous epistemologies and memory. This paper contributes to the literature and efforts by' Native people to advance their own sovereignty, identity, and well-being, as advocated by scholars such as Tuck and Gaztambide-Fernández (2013).

This article begins with recommendations by7 art educators who advocate teaching about contemporary' Native art to improve the ways Native people are perceived and treated in contemporary contexts. Conceptual tools including the use of image / narratives (Paulyy 2003), counter-storytelling, counter-image / storytelling, Tribal Critical Race Theory7 (Brayboy, 2005; Grande, 2004; Writer, 2008), and Indigenous aesthetics are described. Next, examples of image / narratives historically used by' the dominant culture as a form of oppression are paired with works by artists who challenge historical memory7 by' using counter-image/storytelling, humor, design qualities, and re-appropriating historical artforms to open space for dialogue that includes their own points of view. Finally, practical suggestions and recommendations are offered for art curriculum development and arts-based education, drawn from sources such as the Museum of Contemporary' Native Art (MoCNA) in Santa Fe, the Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., and the Indian Mascot and Logo Task Force in Wisconsin.

The Need to Teach About Contemporary Native Art in Art Education

Art education scholars (Ballengee-Morris, 2008; Bequette, 2005, 2009; Delacruz, 2003; Eldridge, 2008; and Stuhr, 1991,1995, 2003) have emphasized the need for art educators to teach about the art of contemporary Native artists, issues, indigenous aesthetics, and lifeways. Sanders, Staikidis, Ballengee-Morris, & Smith-Shank (2010) have cautioned about the ethics of representing Native people in research and classrooms. Laurie Eldridge (2008), a Cherokee art teacher and scholar, recommends:

Teaching 'backwards' on a historical timeline can emphasize that Native American people are alive, their cultures are alive, and they continue to thrive in contemporary American society despite centuries of colonization . …

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