If Native Americans live in two worlds, then Native Pop is the bridge between those two worlds. Native pop art is the combination of the essence of traditional identity and the embrace of the ever changing world around us. —April Holder, 2011

Native Lowbrow Art

Coming from diverse backgrounds and experiences, these artists are united in their use of pop cultural imagery to express themselves as contemporary indigenous peoples. Most of the artists attended the Institute of American Indian Arts, a school dedicated to Native artists choosing their own path in self-representation, and most are participating in SWAIA’s Indian Market.

Lowbrow Art, also called Pop Surrealism, has mushroomed over the last few decades, as a response to overblown bombastic excesses of conceptual art and a return to a love of craft and technique in art making. Santa Fe has been an epicenter for the Native Pop movement, in which artists use pop imagery to explode non-native fantasies of Indians as the timeless “Noble Savage” and to establish entry points for audiences who might not be familiar with tribal histories or imagery. The subversive humor of Native Pop and Lowbrow Art provides a perfect vehicle for social commentary without becoming preachy or propagandist.

The pop imagery used by the artists isn’t random. Often it reflects traditional Native imagery that was co-opted by mass media—Trickster Rabbit as Bugs Bunny, Princess Leia’s Hopi butterfly whorl hair-do, Taos Pueblo artist Pop Chalee’s blue deer paintings transformed by Walt Disney into “Bambi”—acts of re-appropriation.

Pin-up girls are transformed by the hand of Amber Gunn Gauthier and Nani Chacon from sex objects for voyeurs to symbols of empowered women who own their sexuality. Chris Pappan turns traditional ledger art on its head. Linda Lomahaftewa was part of the initial wave of Native Pop artists and was a classmate of T. C. Cannon at IAIA. Lomahaftewa lived in the Bay Area in the 1960s and 1970s and will exhibit monotypes with UFO-imagery. Micah Wesley and Cannupa Hanska Luger were part of the Humble Collective, an artist-run space that challenged and inspired waves of artists over the last decade.

Daniel McCoy combines comic book imagery with imagery from traditional Muscogee ceremonial grounds of his youth, with wry to dark humor. McCoy will create a large scale, site-specific installation at the street-level San Francisco gallery space. Recent IAIA graduates Jamison Chas Banks and Keith Secola (Northern Ute) will paint an interior mural for the show.