By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News
Many portraits of Indigenous people by non-Native artists romanticize, stereotype, or appropriate Native people and cultures. Contemporary Native artists are actively deconstructing these myths and preconceptions about their culture through the use of art. In fact, many modern-day artists use a dynamic combination of materials, methods and concepts that challenge traditional boundaries and defy easy definition.
Tacoma Art Museum’s newest exhibition “Native Portraiture: Power and Perception” gives voice to Native people and communities to show their resiliency and power over the ways in which they are portrayed and perceived. Native tribes aren’t uniform, they are diverse with a variety of distinct characteristics. As such, the artists in this show have taken on varied points of view while sharing their voice. All are well executed and demonstrate that you can’t pin Native art into a single category.
“We can now say, let’s look at this artwork and use a contemporary lens to unpack where these artists are coming from and why they painted the work in this manner,” explained Faith Brower, exhibit curator. “We hope to inspire visitors to explore both controversial issues of appropriation and cultural imagery, and to think differently about Western art and how it relates to their lives and communities.”
“Native Portraiture: Power and Perception”, on display through February of 2019, highlights work by Native artists who address issues of identity, resistance and reclamation through their powerful artwork. The artists ask us to reconsider images of Indigenous people because certain reoccurring themes, such as the “vanishing Indian” and “noble savage”, have led to centuries of cultural misunderstandings.
“What’s happening now is museums are realizing that they have a problem and that problem is that they don’t have the Native American perspective,” said exhibit artist Wendy Red Star. “All the culture has been mined and been talked about by non-Natives. Now, there’s a switch where that body of work works really well as sort of being an institutional critique piece. It tends to fit, to help articulate that in an exhibition like this.”