Damn! There goes the Neighborhood!, 1998 by Hulleah J Tsinhnahjinnie
Way back in college when I needed to put together a teaching unit featuring Native American culture or history, I chose to highlight Native American photographers. Later when I began teaching a high school class on photography, this unit was always a student favorite. In light of Indigenous Peoples’ Day this week I wanted to feature one of the artists I included in that unit. I greatly appreciate the work of the Native artists I have so far discovered. Their work is far more than what one sees, there are deeper themes being explored and healing – the work is often about the healing the collective and historical trauma experienced in their cultures.
Hulleah J Tsinhnahjinnie’s work is very approachable with it’s a comic flare. Her work fits right in with the internet memes of today. But ultimately, the note that I seem to always land on is of sadness and grief. Look at how our white culture showed up across this land in the blink of an eye – great waves of immigrants racing to stake claim to plots of land. We carry on even today with little regard to the wave of devastation this brought the peoples who already were making a life here on this continent. That wiener mobile makes the perfect symbol for our ignorance.
More about Damn! There goes the Neighborhood! —
The visual humor of Shavano’s smoking gun and the bullet-riddled Wiener-mobile in combination with the familiar phrase, Damn, There goes the Neighborhood!, intrigued visitors. That the neighborhood resembles Shavano’s territory could be easily perceived, as well as the arrival of the amusing wiener mobile as a humorous analogy for the arrival of non-native people, products, and commercialism…the piece highlights the colonial element of American popular culture.
In a touch of irony the piece is further compounded by Shavano’s documented resistance to be photographed as part of the U.S. Geological Survey in 1877. Fleming (1986) details the story of Shavano’s photographic history. As a Ute chief, he was photographed as part of a Washington DC delegation, and then later by William Gunnison Chamberlain in his studio at Denver, which is the image from which Tsinhnahjinnie digitally reclaimed his portrait. According to Fleming and Luskey (1986) Shavano’s experiences with photographers led to his distrust of government representatives who used pictures against them. As part of the Hayden Survey, William Henry Jackson, met large bands of Utes who were hesitant to being photographed, and Shavano is explicitly named as speaking against Jackson. Despite Shavano’s opposition, his portrait was later featured in Jackson’s 1877 Catalogue (Department of the Interior and Jackson 1877). Though Tsinhnahjinnie was not aware of this story until later, she felt further validated in creating this work and contextualizing him in an Indigenous role of resistance (Tsinhnahjinnie 2003). – Veronica Passalacqua, Curator at C.N. Gorman Museum
Hoke-tee, 2003 by Hulleah J Tsinhnahjinnie
More about Hok-tee from the Portraits Against Amnesia Series —
“Creating new images to remember. Based on historical images from e-bay and family archives, the sitters in these photographs are transported through time, space and the color spectrum to face the viewer.” Hoke-tee hovers vividly above the surface of the moon. In another humorous appraisal of colonialism, Tsinhnahjinnie envisions “man going to the moon trying to claim it, but when he gets there, there is a little aboriginal baby floating around on her little space scooter. So colonismo spaceman picks up his bags and takes off because it is just too much!” – from Hulleah J Tsinhnahjinnie’s website, www.hulleah.com
Hulleah J Tsinhnahjinnie is Professor in the Department of Native American Studies at University of California Davis and current director of the C.N. Gorman Museum also at the University of California Davis http://gormanmuseum.ucdavis.edu/
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