Indigeneity, Language and Authenticity

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Native Bones and Western Cupboards

skull

Regardless of one’s reaction to the picture above, it has a story to tell. As art it seems to speak to a neo-hippie trend of exotifying the Other, as an example of colonial art in a post-colonial era it seems to prove that we still have a long way to go before we could truly claim to live in an egalitarian society.

To me the picture above functions as an example of Western colonialism transformed and poorly disguised as art, which in its stereotypical depiction of Native Americans sends off a more or less clear message, in which the Native American is rendered a relic and nothing more. The skull in all its simplicity is a poignant symbol of the past, of decay and something lost – facing westwards it combines a physical representation of what according to the West is a dead culture with a subtle Western reinforcement of the same statement; the Native American chief becomes someone who by looking towards the setting sun, rather than the rising one – cf. the way in which the last page is the first in a Western book if you’ve been raised as a speaker and reader of Arabic – takes on the role of a relic, opposed to progress, rather than a living culture.

This role of the Native American skull as a stereotypical, prejudiced and ultimately racist depiction of a culture that the West assumes has played out its role in a modern society and instead functions as a romantic figment of the Western imagination is further emphasised by the fact that it has been dressed in a feather bonnet, which, despite its claim to representing a pan-Native American identity instead diminishes the incredible diversity found within the Americas further, in order to strip these people of their right to self definition.

Not only do Native Americans become lumped together as one single unity in this picture, they’re simultaneously presented as a culture which is gone forever through the use of a Native skull – the painting becomes little more than an artistic form of grave robbery. And as Native American cultures have been defined as dead by the west, despite the fact that they’re very much alive, the Western mind wrongfully reserves the right to appropriate and abuse Native American cultures to hark back to a non-existent, idyllic romantic Wild West.

All in order to finish off a cultural and physical genocide which has been part of Native American history for more than five hundred years.

In short, the picture above becomes an artistic representation of the bones of a people which the West has subjected to a cultural genocide which has transformed it into a kitsch understanding of a romantic past which never was and which the descendants of those who exterminated millions of Native Americans now want to eradicate even more by swallowing up and turning into fashionable, hippiesque accessories.

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