Hail to the Chiefs
Brian Jungen is the first living Native American artist to have a solo show at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, and his exhibit, “Strange Comfort” opened this past weekend. Jungen creates art out of recognizable everyday objects, including sports paraphernalia: a suit of armor made of catcher mitts, a skull made from baseball skins, blankets woven from jerseys, and totem poles of stacked golf bags (above). According to this interview on NPR’s All Things Considered, Jungen deliberately chooses to make art “from materials belonging to an industry that has claimed names such as The Chiefs, Indians, Redskins and Braves.”
“I felt that if these professional sports teams felt that they had every right to use this terminology, then I had every right to exploit their materials for my artwork,”
Jungen also draws inspiration from the ritual aspect of American sports.
“Professional sports play a role in society that serves like a ritual and ceremony,”
he says. “Having experienced that within my own family — the dancing and drumming that I participate in — I know how important that is. So I wanted to use that — use things that people would recognize in their everyday world.”
Jungen twists and inverts the concept of Native American culture, Blake Gopnick writes in a review of the exhibit in the Washington Post. “At least some of his art comes from much more public perceptions, and misconceptions, of Indianness in the contemporary world. It’s as though Jungen has figured out that his best chance at undermining the cliches is from within, by inhabiting them.”
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Jungen grew up in the small town of Fort St. John, British Columbia, with a Swiss-Canadian father and a First Nations Dunne-za mother. He studied visual art at the Emily Carr Institute of Art + Design, graduating in 1992, and now lives and works in Vancouver.
Brian Jungen’s show, Strange Comfort, will be on view until August 8, 2010 at the NMAI on the National Mall, Washington, DC.
Photo: Craig Boyko, © 2009 Smithsonian, National Museum of the American Indian