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Stepin Fetchit Indians.

As a college student at the Rhode Island School of Design, Tom Huff began haunting flea markets and Salvation Army stores in upstate New York, collecting "Indian kitsch" - plastic Indian figures, toy tom-toms, souvenirs, bottles of firewater," and products such as Cherikee Red Soda and Pow-Wow Cheese Puffs.

"I couldn't believe how much was out there," says the artist, who has been adding to his collection for the last ten years.

There seemed to be an endless supply."

A few of these items are on display until December 16 at Syracuse University's Genet Gallery in a show entitled "Tonto Revisited: Indian stereotypes."

Huff and John Fergurson, a professor of anthropology at the State University of New York at Cobleskill, selected a smorgasbord of objects and images for the show, including excerpts from history books, posters, magazine ads, cigar-store Indians, team mascots, and movies, including Drums Along the Mohawk and Dances with Wolves. The Lone Ranger's Tonto makes an appearance, as does Chief Leo, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Indian known as the "Flame-Shooting Feather-Topped Foot Fighter."

Huff has arranged these objects in such ironical displays as "Tonto's Revenge Dance Party," complete with disco lights and headphones, in which a plastic Lone Ranger figure is tied to the spindle of a record player while a toy Indian on a pony sits on a red record. As the turntable rotates, the Indian appears to chase the masked man. "I laugh at the absurdity of stereotypes, at the notion of relating to people on that basis," says Huff.

Other pieces in the show come from a collection of contemporary Iroquois art on loan from the Troquois Indian Museum in Howes Cave, New York. These pieces offer a dynamic, sophisticated perspective on the ways in which modern and traditional life converge and diverge. They are an antidote to the stereotypes that define Native Americans as people whose lives haven't changed in hundreds of years.

"Whose Game," Huff's stone carving of a slot machine, explores the issue of gambling on Native American land. It substitutes corn, beans, and squash, the Three Sisters of Iroquois culture, for the fruits usually found on slot machines. Tammy Tarbell's clay sculpture, "The Execution of Pro and Con," shows a clan mother weeping over conflicts between anti-gambling and pro-gambling factions at the Akwesasne reservation in 1990, and the death of two people, one of whom was Tarbell's cousin.

Other pieces include Albert White's acrylic painting of a Mohawk steelworker and Beverly DeCoteau-Carusona's piece, "The Dream Catcher." A dream catcher is a web placed near a bed in the hope that bad dreams will become entangled in theweb and good dreams will slip through. In "The Dream Catcher," objects from outside traditional Iroquois culture - a Playboy bunny, a gin bottle, a missile, and money - are caught in the web.
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Title Annotation:Genet Gallery, Syracuse, New York
Author:Mellor, Carl
Publication:The Progressive
Date:Dec 1, 1993
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