Brian Jungen gets a lot of press for his show in Washington DC. There’s this interesting NPR story on him and here’s the Washington Post’s Blake Gopnik:
His new show at the National Museum of the American Indian, called “Brian Jungen: Strange Comfort,” is all about probing such cliches of Indianness, which stick like glue to anyone with native roots. That probing puts him on the leading edge of native culture, as well as in the thick of international contemporary art.
Those red, black and white Air Jordans, pulled apart and reassembled into masks, look a lot like the most famous Indian carvings of British Columbia and Washington state — but what’s that to Jungen? The coastal groups that make such carvings have almost nothing to do with his people, who occupy farmlands a thousand miles away, on the other side of the Rocky Mountains.
Natives are supposed to be in touch with nature in a way that all the rest of us no longer are, right? And yet Jungen’s own people are more likely to know plastic lawn chairs than an aquatic mammal that swims in oceans they may never have seen, except on TV.
Outsiders, and some natives, have often bought into a notion of “Indianness” that risks leveling such differences. It’s easy to act as though there’s some Indian essence underlying groups that are actually more different from each other, by far, than the French are from Norwegians. Though we’d never make the mistake of imagining Parisians eating lutefisk, we’re happy to imagine Dunne-za communing with whales.
Asked why he uses so many materials from sports, and whether that’s related to the controversy over sports teams with names that denigrate Natives, Jungen replies to NPR:
“Professional sports play a role in society that serves like a ritual and ceremony,” he says. “Having experienced that within my own family — the dancing and drumming that I participate in — I know how important that is. So I wanted to use that — use things that people would recognize in their everyday world.”
Native Intelligence (Washington Post)