Media Resistance and Resiliency Revealed in Contemporary Native Art: Implications for Art Educators
Historic and contemporary media misrepresentations of Native American people in visual/popular culture—such as Edward Curtis’s photographs, Wild West Shows, museum exhibits, Boy Scout and school enactments, art, literature, toys, cartoons, and sports mascots—have been linked with cultural narratives that represent and reinforce the colonization and forced assimilation of the indigenous North American people. Some contemporary Native artists are challenging these dominant historical narratives by expressing their personal, communal, or cultural values and aesthetics to engage viewers in counter-storytelling as a form of resiliency.
The purpose of this article is to examine media representations and contemporary Native art using historical contexts and Indigenous aesthetics and worldviews. The paper is framed by the scholarship of contemporary Native art educators, art historians, art critics, artists, and their allies, starting with recommendations by art educators who advocate teaching about contemporary Native art to improve the ways Native people are perceived and treated in contemporary contexts. Conceptual examples are provided throughout the article to illustrate the concepts of image/narratives (Pauly, 2003), counter-storytelling, counter-image/storytelling, Tribal Critical Race Theory (Brayboy, 2005), and Indigenous aesthetics. Next, traditional image/narratives historically used as tools of oppression are juxtaposed with works by artists who challenge traditional hegemonic narratives through counter-image/storytelling, humor, design qualities, and reinterpretations of historically meaningful Indigenous art forms. Finally, recommendations are provided for art curriculum development and teaching approaches advocated by Native American authors from the Museum of Contemporary Native Art (MoCNA), the Museum of the American Indian, and the Indian Mascot and Logo Task Force.