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Announcement :: Politics
Multiculturalism, Mastercard, and “McFlag”
by Maryann Ullmann
Email: maryannullmann (nospam) yahoo.com
23 Sep 2004
Modified: 08:01:28 PM
A discussion with American Indian Artist Jaune Quick-To-See Smith who’s exhibit: Made in America is now on display at the Thorne-Sagendorph Gallery at Keene State College.
NEW HAMSHIRE IMC:
If you walk into American Indian Artist Jaune Quick-To-See Smith’s exhibit Made in America at the Thorne-Sagendorph Art Gallery at Keene State College, a large map of the U.S. will greet you, but instead of states, the abundant names of tribal nations burst with the richness of what’s to come as you meander around the walls.
Quick-To-See Smith grew up on the Flathead Salish reservation in Montana, with Shoshone, French Cree, and Flathead Salish heritage. She now lives in New Mexico where she completed her master of fine arts degree. Her work is rooted in her traditional tribal identity, but full of contemporary commentary on the blending and conflicts of mainstream American culture and tribal life. She connects her art to her grassroots activism and work for social change.
“I’m speaking to both audiences, both the mainstream and native community. My messages might seem twisted to some and normal to others,” says Smith. “It’s an overview of native philosophy. We should treat nature with respect and also other human beings. How we treat nature is also like racism.
“I was just reading in the New York Times, in China, about people in the cities who didn’t like the pollution from the factories, so they moved them out to the farmland.” Smith explains how the pollution infiltrated the water there and started making people sick.
“Stories like that will stimulate a painting and make me think about potable water...I get upset and start painting and making pictures about things that disturb me. It’s not an easy way to make art, not a popular way. What’s popular in New York is eye candy—does it match the couch? But doing that is like making corporate art, art for the market. I can’t do that.”
That’s not to say that her work isn’t enticing, with more depth than marketability.
Mixed colors of paint dripping through her images characterize much of Smith’s work. “I’ve been doing that for a long time,” she says. “It allows me to use thin layers and mix colors. For example, I can use a thin, blue background and overlay it with red and it will be purple in places. By sandwiching collage in between it, it starts to create a three-dimensional feeling like looking through layers of glass. It creates a mysterious surface.”
The rich layers include iconography from both traditional native cultures and pop culture, corporate logos, words, rabbits, buffalo, dragonflies, news clippings, corn, and even medieval woodcuts and sheet music.
Humor is also laced throughout. “I poke fun at lots of things,” she says. “If it encourages people, makes them smile, that’s what I hope for.”
An American flag with Mickey Mouse ears and an electrical chord for a tale, titled “McFlag,” seems to invite you to plug in your patriotism. Collages of Disney and McDonald’s advertisements in the red bands poke fun at the centrality of consumerism in American culture.
“Everything in America is for sale including land, water, air, and elections...I think people are going to have to get mad to make change. They’re not mad yet, just going along and being nice. People are afraid of being unpatriotic. I can get away with that a little more because people think it’s just an Indian thing...”
If you stand on your tiptoes in front of the piece “Worlds Within Worlds,” you can read an article by former Vice President Dan Quayle entitled, “Multiculturalism: Sounds Nice, but It has Dangers.” His words now residing amidst the drips of paint, he says, “Instead of focusing on what unites us, multiculturalism often is used as an excuse to focus on what divides us.” He derides the notion that other cultures might be better than western civilization as a “trendy new way of viewing the world.”
By contrast, the swirls of colors and concentric circles and words “Our Communities” suggest that identities and cultures are multi-layered and interconnected, not divisive and threatening.
“Our traditional way of viewing the world and the interconnectedness of it will save this world if anything does,” says Smith. “Somebody has to connect the dots.
“The central message of my work is respect for nature and respect for each other. If we really live that way, if we really live that way, it would be a more peaceful, kinder world. It is possible. If we were more respectful, we wouldn’t be at war right now with a country that’s never done anything to us.
“It’s really the way tribal communities work,” she says. “On my reservation—I still have family there—when somebody needs help with whatever it is, we all have to pitch in and help. People really do come through. It doesn’t happen that way here in the larger community.” She relates a story of a burning house on the reservation. People stopped, got out of their cars, and started rescuing the furniture, everything, from the fire. And the man wasn’t even there. “That doesn’t happen elsewhere. I’ve seen buildings burn and nobody stops, or if they do, it’s to steal things.
“I see all kinds of things like that when I go back to the res. Those things count more than being rich. Being rich is having lots of people around who love you.”
Such sentiments are captured in the heart-warming piece “Coyote is Getting Taller” in which smiling coyotes, who are tribal symbols and part of the Flathead Salish creation story, help to lift each other up.
“I want to thank Maureen Ahern, the director of the Thorne Art Gallery, who went through a lot of trouble to bring the exhibit in,” says Smith. “I was surprised somebody wanted to show it out there.”
Indeed, American Indian perspectives don’t hold a central place in the consciousness of most New Englanders, where the most times we hear about our tribal neighbors are when somebody’s upset about a potential casino. But how many of us know that the Mashpee Wampanoag on Cape Cod, the very tribe which greeted and saved the Pilgrims from starvation, continues to wait for federal recognition after filing an application almost thirty years ago? And that they are working hard to raise money for the Wampanoag Housing Program so they can afford to stay on their traditional homeland which is overrun by tourism, golf courses, and increasing rent and property taxes? How many of us know that the Narragansetts of Rhode Island had their smoke shop violently raided by state police last year for exercising their sovereign right to sell tax-free tobacco, as an alternative to a casino? Or that the Penobscot of Maine must contend with dioxin in their rivers from local paper mills? These are just to name a few.
Statements in Smith’s work like “The Vanishing Americans (Doesn’t Congress Wish)” and “Fry bread: 6 Million Now Served,” belie the growing American Indian population and the strengthening of communities despite all the challenges. And a charcoal drawing of standing rabbits inspired by petroglyphs declares that it’s time to “celebrate 40,000 years of American Art.”
Jaune Quick-To-See Smith’s Made in America exhibit is free and open to the public at the Thorne Gallery until December 5, 2004. Gallery hours are noon-4 p.m. Saturday-Wednesday and noon-7 p.m. Thursday and Friday, with free guided tours on Sundays at 3 p.m. For more information call 603-358-2720.
This work is in the public domain