Winston Churchill famously said, "The empires of the future are the empires of the mind." Some 70 years later, the sentiment rings true with Terrortories: The Frontier, an experimental performance at the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, led by artist in residence Jamison Chas Banks.
United Nations signs and related paraphernalia line the corridors of MoCNA's second floor, leading to Banks' studio, which has been transformed into a bunker of sorts.
"It's a real mess is what it is," he says of the setup. "A mess of conversations through time, and conflicts."
Banks, the leader of an imaginary war, sits behind a desk draped in a powder-blue tablecloth. The tabletop is laden with intelligence accoutrements—from conflict maps to an old Sharp radio.
"There are multiple levels of discourse, not just one," the interdisciplinary artist says.
Dressed in full military garb, from helmet to army boots, he lists three key facets of the project. "One angle it stems from is the current wars and how I see them as a continuous pattern," Banks says.
"It's quite touchy," he says matter-of-factly. "Another [angle] is how we as Native people were brutalized, and how that pattern continues on," he adds, his hood compressing and expanding with every syllable, like a fabric accordion.
The final one, he explains, is "the protective force" of the UN. He asks: "Where was that type of entity when Native Americans were brutalized?"
A lover, not a fighter, Banks says he secured the attire from friends and family members who are in the service.
"I'm a child of a veteran, and most of the men in my family are veterans," he says. "I distanced myself from that; those were the teachings of my father after his experience in Vietnam. So, in a sense, I was brought into protest early on."
The move, he recognizes, might be off-putting to some.
"I don't want to disregard their service; but on the other hand, we have to question what these things are, without blind allegiance," the IAIA grad says. "This is my only way of protesting. Through art."
“It certainly is subversive,” Banks says. “The real base of this is that I’m Iroquoian—from the New York State area—but my people were moved, so I grew up in Oklahoma. There’s this whole history of oppression [that] stems from the Iroquois ‘beginning’ story.”
Banks cites an individual, known in the story as “the Peacemaker,” as one of his influencers. “It’s kind of a dialogue between the ages. Perhaps peacemakers always existed, and I’m just another form, right now, of it,” he muses.
“What the Peacemaker did is he brought all the Iroquois tribes together under a confederacy—before the United States was founded—and that’s kind of one of the principles that America is based on. If you look at the eagle in a quarter or a seal,” Banks continues, “they’re holding a bundle of arrows and, they say, that goes back to the Iroquois Confederacy.”
The 25-minute-long performance also features the Peacemaker’s arch-nemesis, “the un-surgent,” played by Menominee Nation artist Daniel Grignon.
Inspired by American consumerism, Banks gave the un-surgent a propagandist, red identity represented by the Coca-Cola logo, whereas the color blue represents him.
“It’s the whole duality thing,” Banks points out.
The spectacle—which Banks dubs “the resolution,” and says follows a “biting and modern” flow—ends with the signing of a mock peace treaty. “It kind of goes back to the whole Indian dynamic of sovereignty and respect,” he says.
After that, the performance will take on a festive, party tone that further tests the audience’s take on historical inaccuracy.
“In the end, it’s like your complacency is your complicity in the whole, kind of, charade,” he says.
Equal parts Subcomandante Marcos and Andy Warhol, Banks decorates his studio with a series of serigraph cola ads, and gingerly places a couple of Egyptian magazine pages advertising Marlboro reds under a glass casing.
“I think a lot of things in life are already art,” Banks says. “They exist on their own, all I had to do was put them in pedestals.”
Pausing for a moment, he says, “This is the Super Bowl for me. It has to have commercials.”