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. 
Kim Christen
2/9/2013 08:04:40 am

Sounds like a good, solid project. I would also think you can interrgotae the notion of the public space as a space of resistance and bring in some of Coombe perhaps too when thinking about "the public" and colonial and anti-colonial spaces.

It might be worth unpacking the notion of native artist--is all grafitti done by artists or are you imposing this label? What might the spectrum be and can your ethnography get at these nuances so as not to homogenize?

I think also to make some of your questions more open-ended so as not to box in where you are going. Perhaps not all of this is resistance? It can, and may be, partial?

Rachel Sauerbier
2/10/2013 07:54:58 am

Annita, like Dr. Christen said, this is a good, solid project. I have one question about your methodology. I was wondering how you were going to approach this: as an ethnography with moments of self-reflection and positioning or as an auto-ethnography where your own work as a Native graffiti artist is the focal point with the experiences of other forms of Native graffiti informing and reframing your experiences? It might seem like a trivial question, but I think your project proposal is compelling and could go in either direction with very interesting results. Either way, I look forward to hearing the rest of your research proposal.

2/10/2013 08:13:38 am

Hiya Annita,

I can't help but love this project, what with my appreciation for both public art and ethnography.

That said, I have a perhaps dumb question since I am not super familiar with this area, but it's a question that I've heard asked before when it comes to public art as resistance: is there a significant difference between "graffiti" and "public art," or can/should they be used interchangeably? It seems as though this question dovetails with one that Kim asked about whether all of the graffiti or public art can be seen as resistance. But I imagine that fieldwork works to answer this question -- how participants view their own work and its function/s.

2/10/2013 01:10:30 pm

Hi Annita,

It sounds like you have a great project mapped out here : )

One thought: are there any online sites or networks that connect Native graffiti artists? If so, you might use Castells to explore the connections between online networks and physical spaces.

2/11/2013 02:28:35 pm

Hi Annita,
I am fascinated by your proposed methodology of auto ethnography. However, I have a minor concern. Auto ethnography has been criticized a lot because of its use of self as the only data source. I am adding this link to this article that would help you in justifying your methodology.
Hope it helps!!

2/12/2013 04:52:25 am

Hey Annita,

To echo above, this is solid indeed! One question that arose was when you mentioned that contemporary conceptions of graffiti and public art are accredited to the Black/Latin@ experience/community. My question is: have you come across any moments/examples where coalitional politics regarding these different, yet similarly marginalized communities of color have occurred? Your third research question of how understanding Native graffiti can better serve larger decolonial projects might find a possible angle by incorporating both elements: documenting the distinct nature of Native American graffiti and how it has/can intertwine with Black/Latin@ communities? Just a thought.

Looking forward to seeing this in our lightening round. Best of luck!

2/13/2013 06:31:10 am

Fantastic, controllable, interesting piece of artistic heritage, delve into it wholeheartedly

11/17/2013 02:45:02 pm

I liked the way you put together everything, there is certainly no need to go any further to look for any additional information on topic Native Graffiti & Anticolonial Public Space (Annita's project proposal). You mentioned each and everything that too with much of ease......


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