Today we see much of reality through the rectangle of a phone or an iPad, with anything outside the screen cropped from view.
Frank Buffalo Hyde (Onondaga/Nez Perce) investigates that limited perspective through the prism of his Native background with a twist of his own sly humor.
“I-Witness Culture,” a series of 14 paintings and three sculptures, opens at Santa Fe’s Museum of Indian Arts and Culture on Feb. 5. The exhibition will be on view through Jan. 7, 2018.
“He has a unique point of view as to as to the kinds of subjects Native Americans can address,” MIAC curator Valerie Verzuh said. “It’s the world around him and how Native Americans fit into it —— a very contemporary world.”
In “Close Encounters of the Selfie Stick Kind,” 2016, an iPad frames tribal members on horseback, their selfie sticks raised as a UFO hovers.
“Part of my job as an artist is to comment on the times we live in to document them,” he said in a telephone interview from his Santa Fe home. “We’re no longer living in the moment. We’re living in very filtered moments.”
“Eagle Dancer” captures a pueblo dance demonstration as viewed through a cellphone. “Four Dancers” freezes a similar scene of buffalo dancers. A herd of hands cradling cellphones sprouts from the foreground.
“Years from now, we’ll say, ‘That’s when phones were hand-held and not embedded in the back of the eye,” Hyde said. “We don’t experience reality directly anymore, but through our cellphones or social media.
“Before, it was the Cold War. Now it’s the Twitter War.”
When Hyde attended his first rock concert – Van Halen – the scene carved some strong sense imagery into his memory.
“It was stinky, and there was weed smoke, and everybody was loud,” he said. “Now instead of enjoying it, people have their phones up and they’re recording and sending it. It’s voyeuristic. It’s like the human hand is technology.
“It’s like anything; it’s about your intent,” Hyde said. “It’s definitely a useful tool. However, it’s at the cost of experience.”
The artist turned his satirical vision to Southwestern tourism in “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” 2016, a portrait of a leaping cheerleader, her hair coiled into traditional Hopi butterfly whorls. It’s Native America-meets-tourism-meets-grunge-meets-Americana homage.
“The Hopi maiden has become this icon of ‘Come to the Southwest’,” Hyde said. “In my imagination, the Hopi maiden was a cheerleader saying, ‘Come to the Southwest.’ I’ve always been fascinated by the Nirvana cheerleaders (from the 1991 “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video). They’re enigmatic of the time. I used the same colors in the Hopi cheerleader.”
At first glance, “Tribe Called Red Coats” seems to satirize Britain’s Prince William and Kate Middleton by pasting the Sex Pistols logo across their smiling faces. But Hyde uses the image to dive deeply into Native American history. Beneath this updated version of the punk band’s “God Save the Queen” single lurks centuries of colonization.
“It was the ultimate symbol of nonconformity” Hyde said of the group’s logo. “I thought it would be fun to update that with the newest royal family. The British Empire has a long history of colonizing Native cultures all over the world.”
Hyde courts even more controversy in 2016’s “They Kill Chiefs Don’t They,” with the famous image of Jacqueline Kennedy crawling from the rear of the limousine when her husband was assassinated.
“In my mind, that is when America totally lost its innocence,” he said. “For the commander in chief to be killed in front of everybody, it’s horrifying. It’s right up there with 9/11. The U.S. government has killed our children, so we already knew what the U.S. government was capable of. Being a person from an oppressed culture, it was easy for me to believe” in a government conspiracy.
Verzuh is already planning a public comments book.