The following is an excerpt from a paper I presented at the College Art Association’s annual conference in New York from February 2011.
The potential for performance to circumvent limiting and disabling structures in art making is immense. This is particularly true for artists working from Indigenous perspectives in the postcolonial context. Through performance, we practice modes of becoming: we perform what we are, and what we are not; and if we choose, we can do both simultaneously. For artists of Indigenous descent (mixed or not) performance is a powerful opportunity to engage both symbolically and physically with multiplicity of being. This multiplicity of being is the product of being Indigenous to your homeland, and also being a citizen of an occupying nation- a participant in mainstream popular culture that wraps the Indigenous with fiction and near invisibility. In North America the myths about Indigenous people’s disappearance still exist, along with imagined identities of how we look, who we are, and who we are not. Therefore to identify, speak, and act- unapologetically as a person of Indigenous descent, is an inherently political action.
By doing so, we challenge a deeply held North American belief. A belief that this land was a sparsely populated place, void of any real culture or civilization; having since been an experiment in building an new kind of government and the creation of a hybrid culture that children in the United States are taught to call a “melting pot”. Performance provides an opportunity to focus this political action- aesthetically, symbolically, and critically. It gives me as an artist, the opportunity to remind us that if there is a cultural pot on this continent, then it is an Onkwehonwe* pot. More than demonstrating survival and becoming, performance enables artists to physically intervene, with or without permission: in the space of the gallery and outside in the world, using a vocabulary to which we can lay claim. As an artist of Mohawk, Blackfoot and non-Indigenous descent, I occupy interstitial spaces- moving between contexts, I do not feel comfortable confined within any single artistic discipline whose histories have been laid out and claimed in non-Indigenous terms. Performance overlaps image, object, and language (spoken or written) it can skirt ceremony; it exists (and existed) in a specific place; that place grounds the event in a way that objects and images cannot be grounded. An event that has happened cannot be removed. It can be retold, and even it if is described incorrectly, it still took place- and it is that taking of place, that claiming of space and time to exist that I identify as important.
*onkwehonwe is the Kanienkehaka (Mohawk) word for first/Indigenous people
The jacket with the leather elbow patches is off (the sky stretches over there so I go too)
digital print with gouache and ink, 2010 a Migrant Professor performance image