ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — An Edward Curtis photograph of a Hopi maiden, her hair swirled into a traditional whorl, buttresses a portrait of Princess Leia, her hair twisted into similar coils.
Nicholas Galanin (Tlingit/Unangax) created the digital composite “Star Wars”-meets-Curtis “Things Are Looking Native, Native’s Looking Whiter” in 2012. It’s at once a symbol of cultural appropriation and a tribute to the past.
Open at IAIA’s Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, “Indigenous Futurisms: Transcending Past/Present/Future” explores artworks presenting the future from a Native perspective.
These artists use sci-fi themes to pass on tribal oral histories to younger audiences and to revive Native languages.
“It isn’t just about the future,” co-curator and adjunct art history professor Suzanne Fricke said. “It’s about respecting ideas of the past and bringing it into the present.”
Galanin, a participant in the 2019 Whitney Biennial, is known for his large museum installations.
“His work for the Whitney was called ‘An American Prayer Rug’ – a TV with static,” Fricke said.
The Hopi people adapted the butterfly maiden hairstyle as part of a springtime ceremony, she added.
“Star Wars” creator George Lucas said he looked to Mexico’s female revolutionaries, or soldaderas, who joined the uprising at the start of the 20th century, for the double bun ‘do. But the Hopis offer a more direct comparison.
Diné artist Ryan Singer also looked to the “Star Wars” universe in his “Sand People Sand Painting (2019).” Two artists wear Tusken Raider (Sand People) headgear while they create a sand painting of the droid R2-D2 inside a hogan. They wear trendy New Balance and Asics sneakers as they drink Folger’s coffee, their weapons safely secured on the wall. In the film, the raiders attacked Luke Skywalker as he entered their territory.
Singer “is showing them in a more domestic setting,” Fricke said. “You make a sand painting to create beauty and health. So who is the savage and who is civilized?”
Cochiti Pueblo’s Virgil Ortiz created his own universe of futuristic warriors in clay, costume and film to tell the story of the 1680 Pueblo Revolt through his epic story arc, “Revolt 1680/2180,” a mashup of Puebloan history incorporating sci-fi fantasy iconography.
“He’s quite a visionary,” Fricke said.
Ortiz’s futuristic Venutian soldiers come from a post-apocalyptic planet. In his revision, these time travelers go back in time to offer help. The warriors pair sci-fi armor with Native regalia and traditional Cochiti pottery techniques.
Santa Fe’s Teri Greeves (Kiowa) fuses Kiowa beadwork with pop culture imagery. Moccasins are a key part of her tribal wardrobe. A pair she beaded for her sons display images of Boba Fett and a stormtrooper with a raven and an eagle on the other. In the animated children’s TV series “Raven Tales,” a serious eagle and friendly raven retell the stories of different tribes.
“She was thinking of the ‘Star Wars’ universe and how white it is,” Fricke said. “She realized the only characters she could identify with were the ones wearing masks.”
The Mohawk artist Skawennati created Native diagrams for the Second Life online virtual universe.
“They didn’t have anything for indigenous people,” Fricke said.
Her “Imagining Indians in the 25th Century” is a web-based paper doll and time-travel journal.
“She started creating her own templates for skin tones and costumes,” Fricke said. “She wanted to create a space for young indigenous people.”
Neal Ambrose-Smith (Salish/Métis/Cree) turned to “Star Trek” for symbolism. He uses the Enterprise spaceship as a sign of hope. His “What Have You Been Missing?” grew from the 2012 murder of 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary. He painted the Enterprise in the center as a reference to the utopian world of the original “Star Trek” series. Collaged newspaper and magazine headlines undermine this ideal world. The hand around the ship demonstrate loading a semi-automatic weapon. “She Who Watches,” the female chief who was turned to stone by the trickster coyote so she could look over her people forever, watches in agony. Ambrose-Smith is the studio arts chairman at IAIA.
“There is so much in this that challenges what we think of Indian culture,” Fricke said. “We miss how much they’re looking forward.”
Fricke co-curated the exhibition with Chelsea Herr and chief curator Manuela Well-Off-Man.