Mexican Artist Debunks Pop-Culture’s Perception of Native Americans
Half-Mexican, half-Luiseño, artist James Luna has an installation at the San Diego Mesa Art Gallery which launched on March 17 and will be running until this April 16. His hilarious commentary mixes native art with modern pieces. One of the most notable pieces, he calls a “performograph”, was a photograph collage entitled “Say Whaaat!” On the left we see a black and white photo of a typical Native American as we would imagine they look according to our popular media; the photo was likely taken in the 1800’s or earlier. On the right we see him – also a Native American – living in the 21st century. He wears a black t-shirt with large white text silk-screened onto the front reading, “FUCK YOU.” The concept the artist seemed to be trying to convey was that our idea of what a Native American looks like in our modern times is fundamentally incorrect. It has become uncommon to picture Asian Americans wearing kimonos and riding around in rice boats. Why are Native Americans often depicted in popular media wearing loin cloths adorned with feathers in their hair? Luna heavily debunks this in all of his artwork. Upon first seeing the collage it’s almost impossible not to laugh. Luna’s face peers out at the audience, appalled, as though to convey in one look, “Shame on you.” The side-by-side placement of the images are strikingly similar in how Luna stands and positions his every limb. His hands take the same form as the antique native photo and his legs are equally spaced to mimic his stance. The length of his t-shirt almost touches his knees matching the clothing being adorned on his native ancestor in the first picture. It has been about a century since the majority of Native Americans walked around in fresh raw hide and decorated themselves with plucked feathers. It’s about time someone said something. Well done, James Luna!