mural by Corey Bulpitt (Haida)
Background: While considerable work has been done on graffiti and its role in renegotiating power dynamics in public spaces, particularly for low-income people of color, these conversations are primarily centered on urban African American and Latin@ experiences of marginalization and subsequent resistance. Native Americans are notably absent from this discourse, perhaps due to a presumption that they do not partake in cultural expressions long stereotyped as solely urban (and thus implicitly coded as unique to Black and Latin@ communities), or maybe even a total denial of the existence of urban Native communities entirely. Whatever the case, the absence of Natives from discourses on graffiti and renegotiations of public space is not reflective of actual landscapes of public resistance art. Both New York City and Los Angeles are home to more than 50,000 American Indians each, and the majority of American Indians now live in urban areas (other major cities include Seattle, San Francisco, Minneapolis, etc)—the last 50 years of forced relocation and urban migration have firmly placed Native peoples in urban spaces, and these urban Native communities have a long and vibrant history of graffiti as resistance. Moreover, graffiti is not limited to urban cityscapes, and indeed has become quite popular on reservations and in rural areas—in other words, the backwaters Native peoples are assumed to inhabit. There has been an increasing interest in graffiti as resistance strategy among urban and rural Natives alike, particularly in light of Idle No More, and typically the methodologies and aesthetics of this kind of work overtly engage themes of colonialism, territoriality, and indigeneity.
- How does Native graffiti work to interrogate colonial cartographies of territory?
- What kind of spaces do Native graffiti praxes weave together in their expressions of indigeneity and spatialized resistance?
- How can understanding Native graffiti as an anticolonial remapping technology aid in larger projects of decolonization?
original photo; Ladybird Johnson Grove 2013
Methodology: This project is firmly rooted in a participatory praxis; as a Native graffiti artist myself, I believe my perspective and community memberships situate me in a unique vantage point from which to understand the questions outlined above. I intend to critically examine a broad survey of Native graffiti and public art across the US (see photo examples in post), studying the methodologies, aesthetics, and Native-led discourses associated with the selected works. Additionally, I will include an analysis of my own work in the medium thus far, and in this vein move forward with an ongoing project of mine as a means of continued exploration. This includes previous fieldwork conducted in Northern California, as well as in-progress work in Seattle and various areas of the Pacific Northwest.
original photo; Redwood Nat'l Park 2013
Arguments: I contend that graffiti and other forms of public art have offered Native peoples in both urban and rural locales means to renegotiate colonized public spaces. This kind of engagement with everyday landscapes of power works to redefine a mutually constitutive relationship with discursive spaces in which Native peoples are popularly understood as positioned as powerless and defeated—to the contrary, this reconfiguration of public space shows that Native peoples are continuing to engage in anticolonial struggle and maintain agency therein. Moreover, through this praxis Native artists are not only reworking their relationships to discursive-material landscapes of colonial power, but also forging a dynamic and culturally varied space for indigenous resistance that can move outside Western colonial impositions of nationality, boundaries, and territory.
Sources: The primary text I expect to be working with is Philip Deloria’s Indians in Unexpected Places, though I also see possible theoretical ties with Anna Tsing’s Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection. I have a strong understanding of contemporary Native scholarly conversations on pan-Indian cartographies, questions of boundary drawing and nationality, as well as efforts to move outside of Western territorialities—I expect to draw on that to some degree, though I’ll admit a lot of my source material is original ethnography. In terms of Native scholarship, I draw considerable influence from Heidi Kiiwetinepinesiik, Brian Thom, and Taiaiake Alfred. To a much lesser degree, I may also build on some of the Gramsci readings from last semester.