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Perspectives on Contemporary American Indian Film and Art

Denise K. Cummings

Publication Year: 2011

In recent years, works by American Indian artists and filmmakers such as Jaune Quick-To-See Smith, Edgar Heap of Birds, Sherman Alexie, Shelley Niro, and Chris Eyre have illustrated the importance of visual culture as a means to mediate identity in contemporary Native America. This insightful collection of essays explores how identity is created and communicated through Native film-, video-, and art-making; what role these practices play in contemporary cultural revitalization; and how indigenous creators revisit media pasts and resignify dominant discourses through their work. Taking an interdisciplinary approach, Visualities: Perspectives on Contemporary American Indian Film and Art draws on American Indian Studies, American Studies, Film Studies, Cultural Studies, Women’s Studies, and Postcolonial Studies. Among the artists examined are Hulleah J. Tsinhnahjinnie, Eric Gansworth, Melanie Printup Hope, Jolene Rickard, and George Longfish. Films analyzed include Imprint, It Starts with a Whisper, Mohawk Girls, Skins, The Business of Fancydancing, and a selection of Native Latin films.

Published by: Michigan State University Press

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pp. ix-x

I am enormously grateful to each of the writers who contributed to this volume—Michelle, Joanna, Theo., Rocío, Penny, Joseph, Dean, Susan, Cynthia, and Molly—for both their fine scholarship and their spirit of collaboration. In particular, I owe special thanks to Molly McGlennen for articulating the importance of the collection, and to Theo. Van Alst for our...

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pp. xi

Over the past decade, each contributor in this volume has presented her or his work on American Indian literatures and visual and popular culture at such national and international conferences as the Native American Literature Symposium (NALS)—a conference held annually at a continental United States’ tribal venue—the Native American and Indigenous Studies...

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Introduction: Indigenous Visualities

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pp. xiii-xxiv

This collection aims to highlight the hybridity of visual communication within contemporary Native America, with essays that examine how the visual has become a primary means of mediating identities. With its emphases on Native film-, video-, and art-making, the volume’s scope intentionally embraces a visual field perspective in order to examine...

Part One: Indigenous Film Practices

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Visual Prophecies: Imprint and It Starts with a Whisper

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pp. 3-40

For over five hundred years, the literature and visual culture of the Americas has circulated the image of the ghostly Indian as a figment of an American imagination invested in Native Americans as spectral entities of a tragic and mostly elided past within a broader field of historical amnesia. According to Renée L. Bergland, work by European...

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Indians Watching Indians on TV: Native Spectatorship and the Politics of Recognition in Skins and Smoke Signals

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pp. 41-72

In preparing for his role as Thomas Builds-the-Fire in the 1998 film Smoke Signals, actor Evan Adams (Coast Salish) improvised what would become one of the film’s signature lines: “You know, the only thing more pathetic than Indians on TV, is Indians watching Indians on TV!” This joke—uttered while the camera tilts and pans away from the...

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Sherman Shoots Alexie: Working with and without Reservation(s) in The Business of Fancydancing

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pp. 73-93

Alexie’s big chance to reach movie-going Indians comes in the film The Business of Fancydancing. And unlike in his written work, in which he may be speaking to and about Indians but is by his own admission being answered by a mostly white audience, this cinematic work speaks to Indians who interestingly answer back within the narrative of the...

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Elusive Identities: Representations of Native Latin America in the Contemporary Film Industry

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pp. 95-118

The representation of Latin American nativeness in contemporary motion pictures uncovers the consumption of an indigenous subject that is usually victimized, eroticized, infantilized, and/or exoticized in the film industry. I consider each of these processes—victimization, infantilization, eroticism, and exoticism—varieties of the fictionalization that is set...

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Condolence Tropes and Haudenosaunee Visuality: It Starts with a Whisper and Mohawk Girls

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pp. 119-130

Indigenous assertions of the equality and commensurability of tribal epistemologies and lifeways have occurred in the context of colonial relations since contact. One of the earliest examples of this indigenist discourse of equivalences is the Two Row Wampum that records a treaty between the Dutch and the Five Nations made in the seventeenth...

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Videographic Sovereignty: Hulleah J. Tsinhnahjinnie’s Aboriginal World View

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pp. 131-139

In a 1998 essay titled “When Is a Photograph Worth a Thousand Words?” Hulleah J. Tsinhnahjinnie deploys the phrase “photographic sovereignty” to describe the resistance- and resilience-based process through which she creates and reinterprets images of indigenous peoples. For Tsinhnahjinnie, photographic sovereignty—a pervasive hallmark of her entire...

Part Two: Contemporary American Indian Art

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Indigenous Semiotics and Shared Modernity

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pp. 143-160

“The challenge in writing about Native American art,” critic Margaret Dubin observes, “is to recognize areas of difference, as well as areas of merging social and cultural practices, as they coexist within and influence the nature of our shared modernity” Dubin is correct—and then some. In fact, there may be no more daunting scholarly project than sitting down...

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Seeing Memory, Storying Memory: Printup Hope, Rickard, Gansworth

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pp. 161-188

In a self-portrait entitled Seeing with my Memory (2000), Mohawk artist Shelley Niro invites the viewer to consider the seen and the unseen. The artist holds onto a tree at Tutela Heights at Six Nations in Ontario. A recurring setting found in Niro’s work, including her film It Starts with a Whisper and her painting Tutela, Tutela Heights memorializes...

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Aboriginal Beauty and Self-Determination: Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie’s Photographic Projects

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pp. 189-206

Multimedia artist Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie (Seminole/Muskogee/ Diné) has directly examined the notion of beauty in several of her key works from the 1990s. Her interest in this subject coincides with the so-called “return to beauty” that established itself in art historical discourse beginning in the early part of the same decade. Tsinhnahjinnie’s work must...

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Text-Messaging Prayers: George Longfish and His Art of Communication

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pp. 207-222

I first met George Longfish in 2000 when I was a graduate student at the University of California, Davis’s Ph.D. program in Native American Studies. He had been at that time a professor there for over twenty-five years, and I was researching my way through the field of Native American literature—in particular, contemporary indigenous poets—and...


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pp. 223-225


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pp. 227-243

E-ISBN-13: 9781609172312
Print-ISBN-13: 9780870139994

Page Count: 340
Publication Year: 2011