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Visualities: Perspectives on Contemporary American Indian Film and Art

Edited by Denise K. Cummings
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 340
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    In recent years, works by American Indian artists and filmmakers such as Jaune Quick-To-See Smith, Edgar Heap of Birds, Sherman Alexie, Shelley Niro, and Chris Eyre have illustrated the importance of visual culture as a means to mediate identity in contemporary Native America. This insightful collection of essays explores how identity is created and communicated through Native film-, video-, and art-making; what role these practices play in contemporary cultural revitalization; and how indigenous creators revisit media pasts and resignify dominant discourses through their work. Taking an interdisciplinary approach,Visualities: Perspectives on Contemporary American Indian Film and Artdraws on American Indian Studies, American Studies, Film Studies, Cultural Studies, Women's Studies, and Postcolonial Studies. Among the artists examined are Hulleah J. Tsinhnahjinnie, Eric Gansworth, Melanie Printup Hope, Jolene Rickard, and George Longfish. Films analyzed include Imprint, It Starts with a Whisper, Mohawk Girls, Skins, The Business of Fancydancing, and a selection of Native Latin films.

    eISBN: 978-1-60917-231-2
    Subjects: History, Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction: Indigenous Visualities
    (pp. xiii-xxiv)

    This collection aims to highlight the hybridity of visual communication within contemporary Native America, with essays that examine how the visual has become a primary means of mediating identities. With its emphases on Native film-, video-, and art-making, the volume’s scope intentionally embraces a visual field perspective in order to examine aspects of the social importance of indigenous visual culture. The work presented here should be understood as part of a larger conversation that aspires to parallel the contemporary moment from a critical perspective; the employed conceptual frameworks and analytical tools that the authors and the artists they study are,...


    • Visual Prophecies: Imprint and It Starts with a Whisper
      (pp. 3-40)

      For over five hundred years, the literature and visual culture of the Americas has circulated the image of the ghostly Indian as a figment of an American imagination invested in Native Americans as spectral entities of a tragic and mostly elided past within a broader field of historical amnesia. According to Renée L. Bergland, work by European American writers and artists “has been haunted by ghostly Indians” in order to discursively dispossess Native Americans of their land and to deny them a contemporaneous existence.¹ Drawing from Donald Pease’s assertion that scholars of American studies, including postcolonial critics, “have fallen into...

    • Indians Watching Indians on TV: Native Spectatorship and the Politics of Recognition in Skins and Smoke Signals
      (pp. 41-72)

      In preparing for his role as Thomas Builds-the-Fire in the 1998 filmSmoke Signals, actor Evan Adams (Coast Salish) improvised what would become one of the film’s signature lines: “You know, the only thing more pathetic than Indians on TV, is Indians watching Indians on TV!” This joke—uttered while the camera tilts and pans away from the small television playing a black-and-white Western film to follow Builds-the-Fire—was recirculated ubiquitously in reviews as a sign of the film’s break from Hollywood’s representations of nineteenth-century stoic Indian warriors. Promoted as the first film written, directed, and acted by Native filmmakers,...

    • Sherman Shoots Alexie: Working with and without Reservation(s) in The Business of Fancydancing
      (pp. 73-94)

      What is American Indian literature and who is it for? One of Native America’s most prominent and important authors attempts to answer this question in part in an excerpt from Joelle Fraser’sIowa Reviewinterview:

      Sherman alexie: If it’s not tribal, if it’s not accessible to Indians, then how can it be Native American literature? I think about it all the time. Tonight I’ll look up from the reading and 95% of the people in the crowd will be white. There’s something wrong with my not reaching Indians.

      Joelle fraser: But there’s the ratio of whites to Indians.

      Sherman alexie:...

    • Elusive Identities: Representations of Native Latin America in the Contemporary Film Industry
      (pp. 95-118)

      The representation of Latin American nativeness in contemporary motion pictures uncovers the consumption of an indigenous subject that is usually victimized, eroticized, infantilized, and/or exoticized in the film industry. I consider each of these processes—victimization, infantilization, eroticism, and exoticism—varieties of the fictionalization that is set in motion when filmmakers intend to transmit their understanding of a pre-European nativeness that developed in the territories today known as Latin America. In spite of different backgrounds, careers, and agendas, U.S., European, and Latin American filmmakers share a common goal when they address nativeness: representing¹ the indigenous difference² through the fictional construction...

    • Condolence Tropes and Haudenosaunee Visuality: It Starts with a Whisper and Mohawk Girls
      (pp. 119-130)

      Indigenous assertions of the equality and commensurability of tribal epistemologies and lifeways have occurred in the context of colonial relations since contact. One of the earliest examples of this indigenist discourse of equivalences is the Two Row Wampum that records a treaty between the Dutch and the Five Nations made in the seventeenth century.¹ The belt is comprised of two purple stripes on a background of white beads, and the two stripes stand for the two ways of life of the Dutch and the Haudenosaunee. The wampum records an agreement to live in relationship with one another as brothers, not...

    • Videographic Sovereignty: Hulleah J. Tsinhnahjinnie’s Aboriginal World View
      (pp. 131-140)

      In a 1998 essay titled “When Is a Photograph Worth a Thousand Words?” Hulleah J. Tsinhnahjinnie deploys the phrase “photographic sovereignty” to describe the resistance- and resilience-based process through which she creates and reinterprets images of indigenous peoples.¹ For Tsinhnahjinnie, photographic sovereignty—a pervasive hallmark of her entire oeuvre—involves a reclamation of “historical indigenous images in an act to resist amnesia.”²

      Portraits Against Amnesia, a 2003 series of images in which photographic sovereignty is especially prevalent, consists of ten early twentieth-century photographs of modern Native persons that Tsinhnahjinnie gathered from family albums and online postcard auctions.³ By enlarging and...


    • Indigenous Semiotics and Shared Modernity
      (pp. 143-160)

      “The challenge in writing about Native American art,” critic Margaret Dubin observes, “is to recognize areas of difference, as well as areas of merging social and cultural practices, as they coexist within and influence the nature of our shared modernity”¹ Dubin is correct—and then some. In fact, there may be no more daunting scholarly project than sitting down to write an introduction on or to American Indian art. The sheer scope of work, over both time and geography, boggles the mind. Even narrowing in on “recent” or “contemporary” Native art seems impossible. Where does one start? What does one...

    • Seeing Memory, Storying Memory: Printup Hope, Rickard, Gansworth
      (pp. 161-188)

      In a self-portrait entitledSeeing with my Memory(2000), Mohawk artist Shelley Niro invites the viewer to consider the seen and the unseen. The artist holds onto a tree at Tutela Heights at Six Nations in Ontario. A recurring setting found in Niro’s work, including her filmIt Starts with a Whisperand her paintingTutela, Tutela Heights memorializes indigenous people forcibly displaced and offered sanctuary at Six Nations. According to Niro, many Tutelos later died of influenza.¹ Taken together, Niro’s painting and provocative title beg the question: what are the mechanisms of memory that could make this place, people,...

    • Aboriginal Beauty and Self-Determination: Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie’s Photographic Projects
      (pp. 189-206)

      Multimedia artist Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie (Seminole/Muskogee/Diné) has directly examined the notion of beauty in several of her key works from the 1990s. Her interest in this subject coincides with the so-called “return to beauty” that established itself in art historical discourse beginning in the early part of the same decade. Tsinhnahjinnie’s work must be evaluated on its own terms, but the 1990s discourse on beauty provides an interesting context for Tsinhnahjinnie’s exploration of beauty. Grounded in the politics of self-determination, the Diné concept ofhózhó, and a critique of Western constructs of Native identity, Tsinhnahjinnie engages beauty within a political framework...

    • Text-Messaging Prayers: George Longfish and His Art of Communication
      (pp. 207-222)

      I first met George Longfish in 2000 when I was a graduate student at the University of California, Davis’s Ph.D. program in Native American Studies. He had been at that time a professor there for over twenty-five years, and I was researching my way through the field of Native American literature—in particular, contemporary indigenous poets—and writing my own poetry. We came together because of an independent study; I wanted to learn more about contemporary Native art, and Longfish’s art specifically, because of his use of text in certain pieces, and the way his work and others (like Jaune...

  8. Contributors
    (pp. 223-226)
  9. Index
    (pp. 227-243)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 244-244)