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Cannupa Hanska Luger: Transcendant Acts of Native Resistance

(NO)stalgia by Cannupa Hanska Luger

At a recent art opening,  I saw something I hadn’t seen in a long time—truly different Native American art—work that didn’t build on anything I’d seen before, yet had all the historic and contemporary cultural references that make it Native American art with one important distinction, this work resists labels and categorization.

The February 20th, 2014 opening of Eat, Prey, Love: New Works by Cannupa Hanska Luger (Mandan/Hidatsa/Arikara) at Blue Rain Contemporary Gallery in Scottsdale, AZ came on the heels of the recent successful Cross Currents show at the Center for Visual Art at Metro State University in Denver, Colorado (see a video of this show here) and a weekend before the Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair and Market in Phoenix, AZ.

Cannupa’s work is diverse, but is distinctly recognizable by his use of materials, intent, and execution.  He uses materials such as ceramics, paint, paper, textiles, and found objects. His forms are bold and his designs very often include the use of triangles either obvious or abstracted (perhaps referring to star quilt designs). All works have strong social commentary and the quality of work is exceptional.

One piece in the Blue Rain opening, titled Stereotype: The Luger, is a self-portrait and the only remaining piece of a series titled “Stereotype: Misconceptions of the Native American,” a set of ceramic works that were in the shape of “boom” boxes symbolically representing American Indian Stereotypes.  This series was on exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Native Art during and after the 2013 Santa Fe Indian Market.  I saw the works intact at the opening and it was my first introduction to Luger’s work.  This series also became a performative work, as when the exhibition closed, Luger destroyed all the stereotypes symbolically by destroying the works of art he created to reference them (watch for a forthcoming video of this performance; in the meantime here’s a short video of it from Indian Country Today Media Network). The one piece that survives, in the Blue Rain Show, is the self-portrait; it is a representation of a post-indian warrior of survivance, not the simulation of the real; Luger engages the simulation in an act of resistance.(1)

I was particularly moved by the piece titled (NO)stalgia (featured image).  This multi-media piece consisting of original ceramic work and found objects (including thrift store afghans) shows a deer carcass in thoughtful repose.  This piece has so many levels to contemplate: the gaze of the deer; the peaceful pose; the bones of the deer hanging on by fragile yarn tendons and muscles; the delicate hooves; the afghan hide; the yarn innards spilling out; it depicts complete vulnerability and self-awareness of the animal staring the viewer in the face.   In the carcass of the deer are we seeing the “Noble Savage” finally conquered or are we seeing the Native American in a transcendent act of resistance?  My guess is the latter.

Cannupa is a young artist; I expect that we’ll see a lot more of his work in the years to come. It is my sincere hope that he continues to challenge misconceptions and representations of American Indians in popular culture and that his work transcends the label of Native American art.

Follow Luger’s blog here

Luger’s website here

(1) Gerald Vizenor, Manifest Manners

Luger’s Facebook fan page

Article in Contemporary Native Art Magazine

Images used by permission from the artist.

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