December 22, 2015
October 16, 2016
Honolulu Museum of Art
On view in the the museum’s Gallery of the Art of the Pacific, Africa, and the Americas are contemporary works introduced among the traditional and historical art. Curator of Contemporary Art, James Jensen has selected works by Edgar Heap of Birds, Brett Graham, and Enrique Chagoya that form a set of “interventions,” introducing the voices of contemporary artists of Native American (Cheyenne), Māori, and Mexican descent, respectively, each commenting about the impacts of non-native cultures on the indigenous peoples of the respective regions.
Artist Edgar Heap of Birds (Cheyenne name: Hock E Aye VI) is represented by eight monoprints from his Dead Indian Stories series. About this body of work he states: “America and the world must remember that forever the U.S. Statue of Liberty literally has her back turned to all Native Americans and their sovereign nations. The welcoming freedom of “Miss Liberty” is not a positive offering for indigenous peoples of this continent; it is an invitation and act to plunder the natural resources and end indigenous lives. The genocide of Native peoples on this continent has been and continues to be an ongoing raid and pillage that we must endure. One hundred million Native lives have been lost, hemisphere wide, from so called Euro contact. The monoprints titled Dead Indian Stories are made in the face of unending indigenous poverty, deficient educational opportunities, poor housing, police injustice, very high rates of suicide, lack of political representation and dishonored treaties of promise. With these artworks I honor these lives lost and strong Native nations while paying homage to their perseverance through our triumph of life.”
The works of Edgar Heap of Birds have been exhibited at the 2007 Venice Biennale; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art; Documenta, Kassel, Germany; Grand Palais, Paris; and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Australia, as well as earlier this year in the exhibition The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The artist has been a professor on the faculty at the University of Oklahoma since 1988. His artistic creations and efforts as an advocate for indigenous communities worldwide are focused first upon social justice and then the personal freedom to live within the tribal circle as an expressive individual.
Presented amid the works of ancient Latin American art, Enrique Chagoya's El Regreso del Macrobiotico Caníbal (The Return of the Macrobiotic Cannibal), drawn from the museum’s collection, represents a reconstitution of the codex form—individual pages organized in an accordion-fold format, with orientation from right to left—the traditional Meso-American way to record histories. Moreover Chagoya’s work is executed on amate paper, the same bark paper utilized in pre-Western-contact and post-conquest codices in Latin America which are the basis for much of our information about those ancient cultures. El Regreso is made up of eight connected pages that combine classical imagery from the Aztecs, modern American pop-culture, and stylistic elements from the Spanish Renaissance to comment upon the cultural and psychological consequences of a collision between worlds. Juxtaposing these images and ideas, Chagoya creates satirical commentaries that play off of stereotypes of culture, both Mexican and American. Chagoya terms his codex works “reverse anthropology”--from his perspective, Western culture has long cannibalized other cultures, defeating them militarily and appropriating aspects of the conquered society for their own use.
Born in Mexico, Chagoya was raised around, and interacting with, parallel experiences of disconnected culture, as he has said: “We used to go for picnics to the pyramids of Teotihuacán…[where] my dad’s family is from. And then we were going to [Catholic] church. At the same time, I grew up with Mickey Mouse and Superman and all the comics. All the American programs from the sixties and seventies were translated into Spanish.” In 1977, Chagoya immigrated to the United States (he became an American citizen in 2000), working as a free-lance illustrator and graphic designer and for a time, with farm laborers in Texas. In 1984 he earned a BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute and in 1987 an MFA at the University of California, Berkeley.He lives in San Francisco and is a professor or art at Stanford University. His work has been exhibited and collected widely at museums in the U.S. and in 2010 was included at the 17th Sydney Biennial of Contemporary Art.
One of New Zealand's most accomplished and well-known artists of Māori heritage, Brett Graham is highly regarded for his ability to abstract complex historical and cultural ideas into formally strong and conceptually/visually powerful works. His sculpture snitch was previously exhibited in the University of Hawai‘i Art Gallery’s Binding and Looping exhibition and as part of the Hawai‘i and Pacific Collection at Hamilton Library. Snitch’s frontal “defiant stance” evokes the postures of traditional Māori and Hawaiian sculpture, as well as figural sculptures from other cultures across the Pacific. At the same time, the sculpture is a kind of stand-in for the havoc wreaked on Hawaiian and other Pacific cultures by the influx of foreigners in the late 18th and 19th centuries. As a character in the Disney movie Lilo and Stitch, Stitch, an arrival from an alien world, creates chaos wherever he goes and whatever he does, leading to the destruction of Nani and Lilo’s house and the near disintegration of their family. By appropriating Stitch, renamed “snitch” by Graham as an allusion to his untrustworthiness and seemingly clueless destructive behavior, the artist takes a “lovable rascal” animated character and makes him a metaphor for the impact of foreigners on indigenous cultures. By depicting him as tarred and feathered, Graham uses an American trope of symbolic criticism (if Stitch lived in 18th-century America, his nature might well have gotten him tarred and feathered).
Brett Graham's work engages in a dual dialogue of Māori and European histories while adhering to the modernist emphasis on form and material quality. He received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Auckland, and his Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Hawai‘i, Mānoa. His work has been exhibited at the 2007 Venice Biennale; as well as in New Zealand, Australia, Switzerland, and Canada.
Learn more about Edward Clark on the museum blog.