Natchez layers histories, artistic practices, and popular culture references into this vibrant, yet sharply political, image. At left, he paints a column of gun-wielding men. The style is akin to narrative art from the Native nations of the Great Plains, while the action depicted recalls the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre. Here the guns seem to fire on the screaming mother and writhing horse from Pablo Picasso’s iconic painting of the Spanish Civil War, Guernica. The title From Guernica to Wounded Knee links two histories of governments attacking their own people. The inclusion of logos from Shell, Exxon, Mobil and Pontiac suggest that the oil and auto industries relate to this struggle. Given the issues at stake today with the movement against the Dakota Access Pipeline, I was eager to discuss Natchez’s painting with a colleague from the Peabody Essex Museum, Jennifer Himmelreich (Diné [Navajo]), the museum’s Native American Fellowship Program Specialist, who describes the connections she sees:
“With shocking images coming out of #NoDAPL of dogs attacking people who are part of this peaceful resistance to the pipeline, the atrocities that happened at Wounded Knee still run through today. Seeing these logos from the oil companies in the painting reminds us how the roots of conflicts at that time continue to exploit Native land. To have a voice as Native people, one of the biggest issues is to recognize that we still exist, and to combat this romanticized history of how America came to be. It’s valuable to see [contemporary Native American art] that explains these things that we’re trying to overcome.”
This bridging of histories feels particularly resonant when we consider the seminal 1973 protest at the site of Wounded Knee by the American Indian Movement, whose logo is centered by a red hand—as is Natchez’s painting. In my role as an educator, I think about what (and whose) histories and ideas our museum visitors may encounter, and how art might introduce us to new perspectives and affect the way we perceive current events. Natchez’s painting speaks with an active, present voice, and helps me listen more closely to what is happening today.
Update November 8, 2016 7:40pm
Among the 1256 likes and individual comments on this Instagram post, here is a highlight:
rhodyart1960 Great update of Guernica while not minimizing it's power