When you look at an art piece, do you consciously discern whether it is an accurate and truthful representation of the subject? Too often, certain recurring artistic motifs have led to centuries of cultural misunderstandings and distorted realities. Addressing this issue, the Tacoma Art Museum — providing free admission to UWT students — features an exhibit titled “Native Portraiture: Power and Perception,” specifically highlighting the misrepresentations of Native American history and lifestyle in Western art.
Historically, the Western artistic narrative of Native culture has rooted Indigenous people to the past, portraying a “vanishing race” devoid of significance within modern society. To reveal this unfortunate reality, the exhibit features artwork by non-Native artists for visitors to personally experience how the artistic representation of Native Americans has romanticized their culture and reduced it to a commercially viable product for Western consumption. The exhibit seeks to counter these Western narratives by also featuring contemporary work by Native artists, who have found power to resist preconceptions and reclaim their Native identities through their art. “Native Portraiture: Power and Perception” remarkably showcases arts ability to be used positively as a means of transmitting more truthful narratives — it is able to articulate meaning beyond what words themselves can convey.
The accompanying photo shows artwork by Gregg Deal, an artist and activist who is a member of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe. This piece — titled “Childlike Identity” — is featured at the exhibit within a series of his other artwork revolving specifically around the portrayal of Native Americans in popular culture. “Childlike Identity” uses a direct reference to the Cleveland Indians’ ‘Chief Wahoo’ logo, which uses an otherwise offensive caricature laden with stereotypes about the physical appearances of Native Americans. The logo is juxtaposed with an image of an actual Native person to create stirring commentary on how American pop culture misrepresents and creates an offensive stereotype of Indigenous people.
The exhibit “Native Portraiture: Power and Perception” will remain at the Tacoma Art Museum until March of 2020, so there is still plenty of time to experience the exhibit first-hand. Other exhibits in TAM include an exhibit featuring immigrant artists’ portrayal of America, as well as an exhibit featuring artwork specializing in local, Pacific Northwest landscapes. Located across the street from campus, admission to the Tacoma Art Museum is free for all students. Just remember to bring your Husky Card!