“It’s a play on words,” interdisciplinary artist Cannupa Hanska Luger told SFR last summer, days before the unveiling of STEREOTYPE: Misconceptions of the Native American.
The exhibit consisted of 12 ceramic boomboxes depicting different cliché’s engrained deep in Native American culture.
“We’re talking about stereotypes,” he continued, “so I’m using the stereo as a vessel; also, it is ultimately a symbol of—I would say—ethnic people, you know what I’m saying? It came out of the ghetto, and it motivated kids to play their own identity—blast their own identity through the dismal situation they were in.”
Three weeks before the exhibit closed at the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, Luger chose to ceremoniously smash his works in a piece of self-explanatory performance art dubbed Destroying the Stereotype, leaving the jagged shards for display.
“It was actually really satisfying,” Luger tells SFR of his decision to destroy the pieces. “I just felt like them on their own fortified the stereotype imagery outside of their context. Stereotypes are basically one way to understand another, and their destruction was not the end of that conversation.”
A documentary in the works titled This is a Stereotype, picks up where the exhibit left off and is slated to address head on “the misunderstanding and perpetuation of stereotypical myths.”
For it, Luger teamed up with fellow Institute of American Indian Arts alum, digital media artist Dylan McLaughlin.
They chose to finance the project via crowdfunding website kickstarter.com.
“We want it to be available to everybody,” McLaughlin says. “The best way to do that is to build a community and create it together.”
Luger interjects, “To produce the film at the caliber that we would like to do it is beyond my reach, means-wise,” he says. “And ultimately, it’s something that we want to give away for free, so we don’t have any intention of capitalizing on it.”
Donation incentives include T-shirts, producer credits and limited-edition mini slipcast boomboxes. With 30 days to go, the campaign has raised $2,117 of its $10,000 goal.
A chance discovery deep in the IAIA vaults unearthed a bounty of videotaped interviews that documented everyday Native life during the mid-’70s. The pair plans on interweaving snippets from those tapes into the film.
“There are 200 tapes there, with at least 100 communities represented within those tapes,” McLaughlin says of the anthropological material.
The series, The Native American Videotape Archives, was sponsored by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and developed in anticipation of the US bicentennial celebration.
“It’s guys going to work at the old folks’ home or working in the ranch,” Luger says. “It’s mundane, but it’s truer to form than ‘the story of the Native American’—this actually is that.”
One section of the tapes features a group of Lakota potters explaining how they modified their style to look more “Southwestern,” because that’s what sold.
“This is where our modern understanding of what Native American art looks like, came from,” McLaughlin notes.
The duo hopes to premiere the film this summer at Indian Market, and make it available to schools as a “teaching tool” soon after. Far from an “end-all,” Luger hopes the film is a jumping off point.
“What we realized,” he says, “is that there was a dialogue that needed to happen, and the best place for that dialogue to happen would probably in a school setting; since he and I went to the same school at the same time, we thought that we should put out a video for educational purposes.”
Luger, a self-professed “wonder mutt” is quick to point out the nuanced and not so subtle differences that exist under the Native American umbrella term.
“Most of the Native American stereotypes are closer to my region of Native America—which is Plains Indians, war bonnets and teepees—which people automatically perceive as Native American.”
By celebrating those differences, he hopes the film will breed a newfound sense of community.
“I think the ultimate stereotype is us being recognized as a one thing—which is ultimately a false cultural misconception.” He looks at his creative partner. “Even he and I are completely different as far as what our cultural background is.”
Along with the educational angle, Luger hopes a seed of reclaiming self-identity is planted.
“We believe that a lot of these stereotypes are perpetuated because Native Americans as a whole, they don’t own them because it doesn’t link to them culturally, so the myth perpetuates and sustains itself.”