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Uneasy terrain: image, text, landscape, and contemporary indigenous artists in the United States.

Instead of saying, I'm listening, watching--attending. The thesis here is not, strictly speaking, "mine"; and it articulates itself as an image, not as a sentence, though its marks are partly words. With this essay I respond to Flathead artist Jaune Quick-to-See Smith's theory of race and landscape as she transcribes it on canvas in Buffalo. (1) In this complex pictorial and textual composition--as tall as a person and two arm spans wide--Quick-to-See Smith engages in the crucial social and aesthetic project of establishing Indigenous sovereignty, or collective agency, over representational practices. As Lakota scholar Vine Deloria suggests, from its origins in the discourse of theology in East Asia and Europe to its deployment by colonial powers negotiating disbursal of territories, the term sovereignty has had a series of relationships to and meanings for Indigenous peoples. Ironically, in the era of "self-determination," sovereignty has been a key to collective agency for American Indians while simultaneously participating in paradigms of political power and commodification of space that are often at odds with Indigenous civic theories and practices. Lenape scholar Joanne Barker acknowledges the semantic difficulties imbedded in sovereignty, observing that, in a political move abstracted from land-based sovereignty, some Indigenous scholars have developed the notion of "intellectual sovereignty," an "attempt ... to decolonize the theoretical and methodological perspectives used within analyses of indigenous histories, cultures, and identities from the legacies of intellectual colonialism" (25). Similarly, Quick-to-See Smith and many other Indigenous U.S. artists decolonize the theory and method of landscape within the broader context of visual art to construct what might be named an artistic sovereignty, a concept that closely parallels what Osage literary scholar and University of Oklahoma professor Robert Warrior in Tribal Secrets signified as "intellectual sovereignty."

Quick-to-See Smith calls works such as Buffalo "narrative landscapes" (cited in Lippard, Mixed Blessings 113), assemblages of images and texts with the land as their unifying point of reference. Buffalo appropriates image-and text-based tools of colonialism and genocide: the map's outline of a continent (with its fiction of white and/or settler-colonial sovereignty, in which, as Aileen Moreton-Robinson argues, "possession and nationhood are ... constituted symbiotically" [21]), the portrait (with Catlin's paternalistic fable of Native cultures' demise), and the painted landscape. Meanwhile, Quick-to-See Smith draws on Native sources for language and iconography, collaging pages from a Flathood newspaper into her composition and forming the maplike outline as a buffalo petroglyph. She furthermore directly indicts U.S. economic and cultural practices ("money is green ..."). In simultaneously complex and forthright ways, the piece articulates a critique of Western art's history and of its colonialist intent, thinly veiled behind claims of art's universal appeal.

Like many contemporary Indigenous artists in the United States, Quick-to-See Smith seeks to clarify existing relationships among race, place, and economics as well as to create new relationships. In particular, she and her peers combine image and text to interrogate the genre of landscape painting as a stage for fantasies of racialized white manifest destiny. These artists require viewers to don, as Quick-to-See Smith puts it, a "cultural-turning-around headset" to engage with "a different way of thinking" ("Interview Transcript") about the place "we" call "our" "homeland." Their verbal-pictorial critique of the hegemony of American landscape art draws on two phenomena: first, landscape's historical support of colonialist efforts to displace Indigenous peoples, and, second, the widespread but undertheorized practice among artists and writers of color of fusing image and text to refute racism. (2) I explicate these phenomena below as a preface to a discussion of several works by Quick-to-See Smith, Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds, and Charlene Teters.


By one definition, a landscape is "that portion of the world visible by an observer from a specific position" (Conzen 2, cited in Lorch); by another, landscape is a genre of painting Dutch artists established in the seventeenth century (Adams 35). The visual conventions (e.g., overlapping, diminishing size, and linear perspective) for depicting space in Western painting had originated even earlier, during the Renaissance. Artists progressively penetrated flat Byzantine surfaces with indications of space: shallow at first, confined to architectural frames and a toe tipped toward the viewer, and finally expanding into blue infinity. Since the Dutch began painting landscape spaces, the genre has grown to occupy entire museum galleries, graduate seminars, and dissertations. Traditional landscape conventions, employed to mimic the perception of deep space, include establishment of a vantage point (from bird's eye to snail's eye), figures' relationship to the landscape, "scientific" or naturalist representationalism (painting directly from vision with the mythical optic I/eye), dominance and subordination of elements, indications of depth (lines of perspective, overlapping objects diminishing in size as they approach the horizon, etc.), and appeals to the "panoptic sublime" (Wallach). In 1927 Erwin Panofsky observed that linear perspective, in particular, "was a translation of psychophysiological space into mathematical space; in other words, an objectification of the subjective" (66)--or a shift from subjective to normative. Painted landscapes since the advent of photography have pictorially debated the parameters of representationalism with Impressionism's prismatic light, Cubism's multiplication of perspectives, and postmodernism's ironic conceptualizations of humanity and the earth.

More than simply expressing a set of formal principles or experiments in representationalism, however, Western landscape art is also a pictorial discourse on power and place, as argued in John Barrell's The Dark Side of Landscape (1980), in Ann Bermingham's Landscape and Ideology (1986), and in essays by numerous scholars assembled in W. J. T. Mitchell's collection Landscape and Power (1994). These art critics and historians explore how, traditionally, landscapes have masqueraded as crystal-clear windows on the Real, even as they deploy deeply political messages to justify satisfaction of colonialist desire. Landscape art speaks to us with a purpose; it narrates persuasive images of the natural world--its beauty, its power, and its usefulness to human beings. In "Imperial Landscape" the preface to Landscape and Power, Mitchell defines landscape as "a particular historical formation associated with European imperialism" (5) and describes the genre as being "embedded in a tradition of cultural signification and communication, a body of symbolic forms capable of being invoked and reshaped to express meanings and values" (14). More pointedly, Mitchell contends that all sorts of landscapes
   tend to represent themselves as "true" to some sort of nature, to
   universal structures of "Ideal" nature, or to codes that are "wired
   in" to the visual cortex and to deeply instinctual roots of visual
   pleasure associated with scopophilia, voyeurism, and the desire to
   see without being seen. ("Imperial" 16)

He casts landscape as expressing an exploitative or pornographic--and specifically Western--way of seeing. Our study of landscape, he concludes, "must be the focus of a historical, political, and (yes) aesthetic alertness to the violence and evil written on the land, projected there by the gazing eye" an "evil eye.., inextricably connected with imperialism and nationalism. What we know now is that landscape itself is the medium by which this evil is veiled and naturalized" (Mitchell, "Imperial" 29-30).

In these introductory remarks about the political force of landscape art, Mitchell prefaces his colleagues' critical examination of several specific colonialist uses of the genre. For instance, David Bunn writes of colonialist landscape art about Africa: "Colonial landscapes are often imagined to provide dramatic or romantic contexts for the individual explorer, but they are also frequently emptied of rival human presences" (132). Also anthologized in Landscape and Power, Joel Snyder, discussing American landscape photography in the western territories, writes that the technological complexity of photography (its identification as an industrial technique mediated by a machine) made "handmade pictures," or painted landscapes, seem to emerge from "ultimately spiritual or imaginative springs" (175). Colonialist landscape paintings can be understood, then, as a medium for imperialist desire (Mitchell, Picture Theory), as a stage for guiltless exploration and guileless acquisition (Bunn), and as spiritual expression (Snyder). They depicted Columbus, Captain Cook, and the Pilgrims stepping across the threshold of a supposedly "new" world, with Indigenous peoples peering from the yet-to-be "discovered" interior, fused in their duskiness and in the repetition of their forms with the shadowy and repeating surfaces of strange foliages. At the same time, these images depicted Europeans as the land's new owners, from Oceania to Cape Horn, entitled to their so-called discoveries merely by virtue of their act of claiming them.

Like their settler-colonialist counterparts around the globe, European immigrants to North America and their descendants took up the same representational practices of landscape painting but with American Indians as key figures in their work. Simon Schama dryly describes how natural vistas in North America were imbued with an "aura of heroic sanctity" where giant redwoods grew "inexorably ever more awesome until God's new Chosen People could discover them in the heart of the Promised West" (19a). Taking up famed western landscape artist George Catlin as his exemplar, Gareth John demonstrates how,
   during the first half of the nineteenth century, the American
   landscape and the Indian were employed by cultural
   nationalists--writers, artists, politicians, lawyers, bankers and
   merchants alike--as symbols linking textually and aesthetically the
   natural environment and its aboriginal people to romantic notions
   of morality, exceptionality and a national racial heritage. (177)

John points out that Catlin's "imagery--especially the naturalism and realism inherent to the landscape genre--contributed to an imperial discourse on the Native American West" (178, emphasis added); meanwhile, John also notes the internal contradiction articulated in Catlin's art, "celebrating and promoting the Indian subject" while also "complicit with Jacksonian policy designed to rid eastern lands of Native Americans" (177). He continues:
   Those "pictures" actively (re)produce the west as landscape, a
   "prospect" or view framed by a particular set of nationalist,
   scientific and artistic discourses which by virtue of their
   shared--if at times ambivalent--imperialist teleology necessarily
   constructed the Indian as the "Vanishing American" and western land
   as the future stage of national development. (John 179-80)

In fact, Catlin's artistic project had a clearly expressed relationship with public policy. John notes that Whig Senator Daniel Webster of New York argued in 1867 for Congress to purchase Catlin's paintings of Native Americans because Catlin had captured "an American subject, as belonging to us, to our history, to the history of a race whose lands we till, and over whose graves and bones we tread every day" (quoted in John 183). Catlin's project was to preserve images of vanishing peoples; as such, it "contains anti-imperialist sentiment" that opposed forces that were causing Indigenous peoples' decline: "westward expansion, government policy and the fur trade" (John 185). However, Catlin viewed the Indian as doomed to perish: his art was archive, not protest (John 194).

From Frederic Remington, to Albert Bierstadt, to George Catlin, U.S. landscape painters repeatedly have constructed fictitious images (ranging from the paternalistic to the degrading) of Indigenous peoples and their supposed trajectory into oblivion. In Catlin's Buffalo Hunt, Chase buffalo, horses, and Indigenous men form a unified vortex rushing across the contours of the hills. Such works visually code the nation as an array of expansive spaces, lush with sublime vistas and exploitable resources. In framing scientifically objective points of view drawing on Western pictorial traditions like taxonomies, in participating in the history of landscape art as colonizing discourse, and in erasing Indigenous gazes back at white artists and their audiences, they express white supremacy as sovereignty over the land and its flora and fauna. And, as Catlin's Buffalo Hunt, Chase demonstrates, they frequently represent Indigenous peoples as part of that flora and fauna, an aspect of the land--both quaintly nearly human and dangerously nearly human. (4) In these versions of America, the American Indian was a central figure--or, perhaps more accurately, a crucial element of the marginalia. Such images argued that Native peoples were objects-within-the-object-of-the-Land, in a blithe conversion of former Europeans' theft of the land into fair acquisition of natural resources.

The U.S. fine arts establishment continues these conversions into the twenty-first century. In a 2003 article in Critical Inquiry minimalist artist Robert Morris discusses monumental art (an outgrowth of landscape art). He describes "the evolution of the Mega Image (MEGIG), the sublime that begins in the 'natural world' of a vast new continent" (Morris 679). Morris is a master of parody: his acronyms and lyrical argument demonstrate an exquisitely ironic consciousness of convention as ideology. Morris carps playfully about accusations that art might be a vehicle for nationalist ideology: "Artists wouldn't enlist, would they? Artists don't serve" (680). However, he persuasively posits an "ideology of the monumental" and describes American contemporary Mega Images as "dedicated to forgetting" (Morris 682), part of the postmodern retreat from history and context (Hassan).

Morris implicates Maya Lin's Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC as a participant in the ideology of the monumental and claims that the fact that "it was designed by an Asian-American female [sic] also indicates that the IMPUNC [Imperialist Unconscious] is not an exclusively gendered or racial category" (688). However, these criticisms contradict his admission that the memorial constitutes "the one time the phenomenological sublime attempted to turn itself toward memory" (Morris 687-88). In a poignant illustration of the power of the Imperialist Unconscious, Morris--in this essay--never names Maya Lin as the artist. His illustration caption instead names the photographer (Richard Hofmeister) and the author of the book in which the photograph appears (Edward Clinton Ezell) (Morris 688). Even Morris admits that Lin's turn toward memory pollutes the purity of the Imperialist Unconscious, whose haven is postmodernism's exploding variety and vastness, where memory and referentiality and (gendered, raced) identity all but disappear. At the same time, Morris's discussion undoes itself, and he turns around, unconsciously, to show us his broad, pale aporia.

From Catlin's landscapes to the monuments Morris describes, landscape in America often has served the colonial project; however, American Indian artists upend the genre both by interrogating its content and conventions and by dismantling the very notion of "landscape." The representational strategies in Indigenous artists' landscapes often differ from those used in traditional landscapes. Responding to a 1990 exhibition entitled Our Land/Ourselves: American Indian Contemporary Artists, art critic Lucy Lippard contends, "Landscape elements ... are often represented symbolically rather than naturalistically" ("Color" 11). While an eye conditioned to the commonplaces of Eurocentric art might "see" those symbols as abstract representations (say, of a coyote, a buffalo, or a hummingbird), Lippard continues, the symbols "are in fact as concrete and 'real' (or more so) than the illusions of 'realist' painting" ("Color" 11). On the same note, Quick-to-See Smith specifies that landscape conventions such as horizon lines and realism are conspicuously absent in works included in the Our Land/Ourselves exhibition ("Curator's Statement" vii).

Finally, speaking of these works as "landscapes" may be a misapplication of terms. Of certain of her own works Kay WalkingStick declares, "Those are not landscapes, but paintings about my view of the earth and its sacred quality" (17). In his ethnographic examination of how First Nations relate to their lands in western Canada, Michael Harkin observes a reciprocal relationship in which human history is "inscribed on the landscape" and where landscape is itself an agent of history: "The Nuu-chah-nulth view has place as an active participant in the narratives" (57). Harkin contrasts Western landscape traditions, whose "panoramic point of view reflects an elevated social position; those with the ability to see the big picture are those who are given the power to control and alter social as well as physical landscapes" (55). Harkin cites landscape works by contemporary Indigenous Canadian artists to argue that, for these Native artists, "the actions of humans [are] in concert with ... the intentionality of place" (59). In the context of U.S. art, Lippard observes expressions of
   the complex and problematic relationship of Native American people
   not only to "their" land--the fragments of land they have been
   forced to "own"--but to their Land, a sense of place that
   transcends the often petty, often greedy, often destructive notions
   that rule the dominant culture. ("Color" 7)

She notes that "Native sovereignty ... includes the belief that human law rises up from the land which, in turn, obeys the laws of ... the Unknowable" (Lippard, "Color" 7). In other words, culture, society, and the political body emanate from the land, a direct reversal of the Euro-Western causal chain, where the desire of the human machine is imposed upon the earth.


In 1929, with The Treason of Images, Rene Magritte combined image and text to question the reliability of vision as well as the authority of words. The iconic image of the pipe, in tandem with the carefully drawn sentence below it (Ceci n'est pas une pipe--This is not a pipe), works as a compact visual and textual essay on semiotic chaos and chiasmus: messages coexist yet directly refute one another. Yet meaning may be only a first question: in What Do Pictures Want (2005) Mitchell abandons customary examinations of the meaning and power of images to "reckon with ... their silence, their reticence, their wildness and nonsensical obduracy" (10). In tandem with texts, images may shed silence while remaining wild and oppositional. Such juxtapositions of art and writing (imagetexts) have histories and associations too long to recount here, but they characterize much postmodern art and writing. (5)

In a move that has gone mostly unnoticed, present-day artists and writers of color often deploy imagetexts specifically to interrogate racism as a complex system of verbal and pictorial representations, employing verbal-pictorial juxtapositions to critique that system on its own verbal-pictorial terms. (6) For instance, in a group of photo-collages (collectively entitled Defining Moments), Korean American artist Yong Soon Min offers an incisive critique of how Asian American women's subjectivities have been constructed. (7) Presenting a photographic image of her own face and body, Min refuses the sexualized stereotypes imposed upon her and defaces herself with marks: DMZ is written across her forehead in ironic dialogue with the word HEARTLAND arcing across her chest. Superimposed across Min's face and chest in each image is a double exposure: a scene from the Korean War cast across her skin (2), a riot in a Korean city (33), soldiers driving people from a city street (71), and newspaper photos of the "historic rally in Koreatown" (101). Her fifth and final photo-collage in the series (Min 162) employs a double exposure of cliffs on a coastline to open her chest cavity as a deep chasm, an outward and inward explosion of the DMZ/HEARTLAND--her subjectivity split between America and Korea, her heart and her mind, the surface of her skin and the marks written upon it. (8)

Indigenous American artists likewise create what might be called "critical imagetexts": in other words, their imagetexts are effective critiques of received truths about Native America. Few analyses have examined such critiques by Indigenous artists of the United States, but in a 2003 panel chaired by art historian Zena Pearlstone, participants discussed a number of questions about the specific dynamics of imagetexts for American Indian artists. (9) The panelists examined concerns such as artists' belonging to cultures with and without written languages, the Western notion that the authority of words exceeds that of images, the advantages and disadvantages of combining image and text, and the relationship of words to images (as direct or oblique interpretations, etc.). Such questions break the ground for further study into the vigorous, frequent, and widespread practice of imagetext among Indigenous artists. These artists take up the same combinations of image and text that have enabled the strong presence of Indian stereotypes in visual communications in the United States. (10)


Given the ideological impulses of landscape and the history of unrelenting dispossession of Native America, it's no surprise that the postmodern intersection of Native America and landscape art is a volatile event. To begin, it is important to acknowledge that the history and function of art by Indigenous peoples of North America have been largely defined by the Western discipline of anthropology. Even the phrasing of this clause betrays this scholarly terrain as an ideological minefield. First, "have been ... defined by" sets up a listless, passive construction that mitigates how a reader assigns blame for perpetuations of inequality. Who was responsible for the anthropologizing of Indigenous arts? An anonymous crowd of disciplinarians? Anthropology in this clause is a discipline, or a set of knowledges, internally coherent and logical. But discipline is also a quality of anthropology; the "discipline of anthropology" could be read as the "disciplinarity of anthropology," the field's desire and power to govern. More importantly, the sentence also belies art's own agency. Art's work is merely a construct, here, of anthropology.

Molly H. Mullin investigates a crucial moment in the history of Indigenous peoples' art, demonstrating that early-twentieth-century patronage of Indian art encouraged traditionalism. In part, she notes, wealthy patrons during the 1930s attempted to countermand coercive efforts to force assimilation of tribes for what they believed to be philanthropic reasons. But a deep desire to promote an American cultural nationalism motivated them--ironically, their wish to preserve Indian identity was precisely mirrored by their desire to appropriate Indian identity (of a specific sort) as part of an America that would be independent of European and Euro-derivative New Englandish cultural histories (Mullin 398). These patrons saw (particularly southwestern) Indian art as utopically nonalienated labor, "inseparable from the natural landscape" (Mullin 399) and opposable to the cheapening forces of commercialism and mass production. "Working class and middle-class consumers were taking on new measures of cultural authority," and these collectors sought to establish aesthetic values "in accord with elite tastes" as well as "to educate potential buyers" (Mullin 401-3). Among these collectors, Indigenous peoples' art was valued in direct relation to how it complied with aesthetic standards imposed by the collectors and by the anthropologists who authenticated media and styles (Mullin 404). Mullin notes that none of the judges for Indigenous arts contests held during this foundational era were Indian. Later, the Roosevelt administration's Indian Arts and Crafts Board provided state regulation of Indian authenticity (Mullin 409). As documented by the 2004 issue of U.S. postage stamps commemorating art of the American Indian, authenticity is still marketed to the public as a matter of conformity to traditionalism, epitomized in tribal dolls, textiles, and ceramics.

Contemporary Indigenous artists have answered these impositions with stylistic innovations and highly politicized visions. In 1992, for an issue of Art Journal (a major arbiter of the nation's artistic taste and consumption) dedicated to works by contemporary Native Americans, Joseph Traugott wrote an article describing how institutions since the Santa Fe Studio (now the Institute of American Indian Arts) have shaped representational styles and content choices of Indigenous artists. Rather than "condescendingly appending [these works] to the dominant tradition" (43), Traugott's aim is to work toward an art historical discourse that can account for the challenging paradoxes--of mimesis and parody occupying the same space--that he sees in the work of Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Kay WalkingStick, Emmi Whitehorse, and others. Traugott contends that Native artists perform a reversal of the "salvage paradigm" James Clifford's theory for how Euroamerican artists have mined non-Western art and culture in search of authenticity in artifacts of the "primal" human. Conversely, Traugott says, "Native Americans can salvage parts of the dominating culture--as well as of their own culture--to further their own identity ... for both modernist and postmodernist goals" (37) as well as "to expand the meaning of nativeness in the contradictory context of contemporary society" (41).

Two key exhibitions specifically examine the way Indigenous North American (U.S. and Canadian) artists have engaged with the history of landscape art, many using imagetext to do so. In 1998 Red Pheasant Cree artist Gerald McMaster curated an exhibition entitled Reservation X: The Power of Place in Aboriginal Contemporary Art and also edited the exhibition's catalog, which includes his essay, "Living on Reservation X." In this essay he posits that the X in his title is a chiasmus, much like the X Alfred Arteaga identifies as the crossroads identity for Chicanos--or xicanos. Originating in the script for a film by Shelley Niro, Reservation X, for McMaster, is the fictive and real space where "contemporary Indian people [live,] ... a place with a story" (20-21). In addition, "the mystery of X is a historical moment" a trace left by the "non-literate" the signature or mark on treaties: "The X was contradictory; it indicated inarticulation. These Xs created the reserves" (McMaster 21). For contemporary Native artists, the X is a meeting point for the urban and the rural, for those living within and outside the reservations, for the simultaneous functions of the reservation as "sanctuary and prison" (McMaster 22). McMaster's key theoretical premise is that Reservation X is "a space of radical openness and 'hybridity,' or spaces of resistance being opened at the margins[,] ... politically charged, though highly permeable" (28).

Another exhibit focused on how Indigenous artists conceptualize landscapes was Lifeworlds--Artscapes: Contemporary Iroquois Art. The accompanying catalog includes writings that interrogate received notions of landscape art as well as assumptions about Native artists' relationship with the land. Akwesasne Mohawk artist Katsitsionni Fox's meditative essay answers the tenets of Western humanism with Ohenton Kariwatekwen, a prayer--"the words that come before all else" as translated from the Mohawk language (34). In his turn, Cattaraugus Seneca artist G. Peter Jemison describes the process of producing a video that forms an imagetextual bridge between the sacred white pines still standing in the wilderness and "original Haudenosaunee territory, otherwise known as New York State" (38). Onondaga photographer Jeffrey M. Thomas describes a project through which he "began to feel that Buffalo[, New York,] was 'home'--part of the Iroquois homeland, part of our traditional territory" (54).

For Thomas and others, contemporary Indigenous art has articulated a fraught set of relationships between Native America and the land. While the possibilities are virtually endless, in the passages that follow I discuss only a few specific examples of works by three contemporary Indigenous artists. Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds, and Charlene Teters all investigate the uneasy terrain of landscape and representation, with image and text fusions mapping their progress.


Jaune Quick-to-See Smith began painting "as a mother of two in her thirties after having spent years working, among other things, as a waitress, factory worker, domestic, Headstart teacher, librarian, veterinary assistant, janitor, and secretary" (Lippard, Mixed Blessings 112). She identifies her father's work splitting shingles and building corrals as the origin of her understanding of art making and aesthetics (cited in Lippard, Mixed Blessings). Quick-to-See Smith describes her artistic process as gradual and thoughtful (Jaune Quick-to-See Smith 8) and religious in purpose (Abbott 212). Her collage technique is to layer printed elements, painted figures (including corporate logos and references to traditional and postcolonial Indigenous arts such as petroglyphs and ledger drawing characters), and zones of transparent, opaque, scrubbed, and dripped color. Compositional elements participate in a dance between balance and imbalance (Abbott 219). Drawing on her 2003 interview with the artist in Corrales, New Mexico, Zena Pearlstone relates that Quick-to-See Smith "started using text in her pictures in 1989, and sees text and imagery as having a symbiotic relationship" (78). Prior to 1989, in attempting to convey reservation concerns in her work, Quick-to-See Smith
   would interpret these concerns in images, but found that viewers
   did not understand what she was painting. This [frustrated desire
   to communicate directly and specifically] led her to create
   collages from articles using the Char-Koosta News and other
   newspapers to elucidate her intention. (Pearlstone 78-79) (11)

Pearlstone further notes that the union of image and text derives from Flathead Salish cultural practices:
   When elders talk and constantly move their hands there is a
   critical added dimension. Whites [and other outsiders] are
   generally unaware of this added meaning, which varies from group to
   group, and therefore miss a vital component of native language.
   (79) (12)

Lippard reports that Quick-to-See Smith "calls [her paintings] narrative landscapes; the stories hidden within them are visible only to those who know how to see the life in the arid 'empty' landscape itself" (Mixed Blessings 113). Lippard continues with Quick-to-See Smith's description of her process, in which the artist paints the palpable components of her world, assembled for survival, fusing "the past, present and the future" pictorially, the way "we talk." Quick-to-See Smith writes that she
   paint[s] in a stream of consciousness so that pictographs on the
   rocks up behind me muddle together with shapes of rocks I find in
   the yard, but all made over into my own expression. It's not
   copying what's there, it's writing about it. (Quoted in Lippard,
   Mixed Blessings 113)

"Language," Lippard goes on, "is an integral part of this equation of land and culture;' and she identifies the "desecration/dislocation [that] occurs when place names are erased" as well as the restoration of cultural linkages made possible when traditional place-names are reclaimed, as in "a 'linguistic remapping' project on the White Mountain Apache reservation in Arizona" (Mixed Blessings 113).

So language intersects here, in Lippard's thinking, with the pictorial in a couple of ways. First, Lippard demonstrates the converse possibilities in naming the land--the possible colonization of lands in the name of white-Euro sovereignty and the possible decolonization of lands in restoring names like "a flat open place beneath bitter mescal" (Mixed Blessings 113)--names that enact a human eye's experience of a scene, yielding to its realness, rather than imposing a "discoverer's" surname or the name of a remote despot. Second, in her report of Quick-to-See Smith's description of her painting process, Lippard notes that the pictorial is, simultaneously, textual. Quick-to-See Smith writes, It's not copying what's there, it's writing about it. Her art is not mimetic reproduction but a quasi-textual response, a reciprocation, yielding. Partly in its reliance on imagetext, Quick-to-See Smith's work also inscribes itself in the modernism to postmodernism trajectory toward fragmentations and interrogations of media. In fact, as Erin Valentino argues, Quick-to-See Smith reverses the logic of stereotype to watch the "center" as it watches the "periphery," a quintessentially postmodern move.

Furthermore, Quick-to-See Smith's work also responds to art historical misappropriations of Native cultures' symbols. Take, for example, George Catlin's Bull Buffalo, Grazing, in which an important and sacred symbol of many Native cultures is portrayed as a seemingly domesticated specimen, isolated in the foreground of a faintly painted landscape like a botanical sample in a nineteenth-century naturalist's guide. Quick-to-See Smith has responded to this and similar images of the buffalo with several large canvases such as Genesis and Indian Drawing Lesson (both 1993) as well as Buffalo, the original articulation of the thesis I explore here, a piece I will examine in some detail.

In this 1992 mixed-media work Quick-to-See Smith composes a loose grid of verbal and pictorial collaged elements that interact without a governing narrative, the outer contour of a massive and impassive buffalo working like a horizon line in a modernist field painting: the buffalo's outline imposes a conscience or consciousness, just as the horizon line imposes the grid of linear perspective. The scattered collage elements include several newspaper clippings, including some from the artist's home reservation newspaper, the Char-Koosta News. One announces the hiring of a resort manager, another students' need for housing, and others sundry other matters of local importance. Also referring to the traditional uses of image and text to document fact are several naturalist renderings of animal species (a nuthatch, mallards, frogs, etc.).

With the words" ... KEEP THESE PHOTOS IN YOUR WALLET" an advertisement coaches consumers to save their money, represented by the oval-framed portraits of presidents from U.S. currency. A fragment from another ad declares: "KIDS! Discover Columbus Activity Maps at Long John Silver's, while they last." Various headline and ad clippings, textual landing strips in buttery and water-washed color fields, make loose to specific references to colonialist ideology and policy: "DOES MONTY PYTHON KNOW ABOUT THIS?"; "The Poor Man's War"; "Meanwhile Back at the Ranch"; "Ripley's Believe It or Not!"; "OCTOBER SURPRISE: THE SEQUEL"; "Transportation for people who are already there"; "romantic appeal"; and "Celebrating Our Cultural Heritage." Quick-to-See Smith also incorporates racist representations and imperialist appropriations of Indigenous peoples' images in product labeling (Og-Na tomatoes and Plen-Tee Color apples). At the same time, representatives of white sovereignty make their appearance: Spiderman hovers on a ceiling, and Blondie's Dagwood, quintessential white man, frets his way through his morning routine on the way to his daily pursuit of the American Dream. Near the composition's center, Quick-to-See Smith places what appears to be a page from a child's vocabulary lesson entitled "On the Warpath" and featuring a trio of shapeless seated figures wrapped in blankets, two feathers perched atop each one's head. The final word (if we read the painting left to right, top to bottom) is a colonial era woodcut representing Indigenous people brutally slaying one European while another cowers in fear of his fate. Just above the image is the reference to Discover Columbus Activity Maps, while below are the words: "HOSPITALITY VS. QUESTIONABLE CONDUCT."

While the artist stops short of mapping exact relations amongst these elements, she provides the materials for interpreting a complex set of messages about the relationship between Native America and the land. For instance, the substitution of the buffalo contour for the ubiquitous horizon line creates an entirely different frame of reference, an alternate system of "perspective." It's a linear perspective of another sort--one that casts the buffalo's petroglyphic outline as a boundary for a territorial map. Countering appropriation with appropriation, Quick-to-See Smith takes the advertising slogan, "transportation for people who are already there," from a statement about the intended affluent consumers of a gasoline-powered scooter by Yamaha, people who are already "there" in the zone of immunity from need, to a statement about people who were "already there" when the colonizers landed. Transportation becomes a parodied euphemism for forced relocation; meanwhile, the faceless and anonymous wealthy buyers of Yamaha's Riva become the textual and invisible mirror image of Indigenous America. The tension between violence (resistance) and hospitality (compliance) finds no resolution in a composition that asks viewers to poise themselves on that razor's edge, to hold steady their gaze, to hear the entire talkstory, to read cover to cover.


Also deeply engaged in using image and text to establish a dialogue between the landscape genre and Indigenous arts, Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds describes himself as producing four art forms: paintings, word drawings, installations (or public art), and criticism. For him, as eloquently expressed in all four of these forms, art is simultaneously textual and pictorial. For instance, in his Neuf Series (Neuf is the Cheyenne number four) he creates what he calls "large celebratory color-contrast paintings ... [that] originate from the western Oklahoma canyon lands" (Heap of Birds, "Thoughts"). He continues: "From this rural yet invigorating landscape a painted language began. This language evolved from the cedar trees which populate the grasslands along with the arroyos within the red earth" (Heap of Birds, "Thoughts," emphasis added). As Heap of Birds describes it, his work is a fusion of image and word that derives from the landscape. In his word drawings (made with markers on six-by-nine-foot rag paper) he examines "complex daily memories and reactions" recorded in his diaries (Heap of Birds, "Thoughts"). Finally, in his curatorial and critical work Heap of Birds directly participates in the discourse surrounding art theory and production, a discourse he categorizes as itself an art practice. "I find it very important," he writes, "to comment in written form upon art and present analysis of artistic expression through curatorial efforts" (Heap of Birds, "Thoughts").

Heap of Birds' installations or public artwork include signage and memorials. Often these works are placed outdoors in urban settings, where they engage in ironic conversation with their environments. Certainly these works can be read as a direct confrontation of what Morris calls the "ideology of the monumental" (682). Representative of these public artworks is Native Hosts, comprised of six aluminum signs posted around New York City. One declares: "NEW YORK: TODAY YOUR HOST IS SHINNECOCK." Lippard outlines Heap of Birds' project:
   These signs reminded New York's current inhabitants whose land they
   occupy: Shinnecock, Seneca, Tuscarora, Mohawk, Werpoe, and
   Manhattan. New York, written backwards, reversed the post-Columbian
   claims and forced viewers to face back into the past. (Mixed
   Blessings 217)

According to Lippard, Heap of Birds' self-reported models in creating public art are "the great Medicine Wheel, the innumerable effigy mounds, ritual sites, and petroglyphs of Native peoples" (Mixed Blessings 217). In his use of signs he relabels the landscape to exile the white viewer. This project is a frustration of imperialist desire precisely at the moment where the imperialist eye has learned to find its purest satisfaction: "reading" the landscape in signs, especially signs that announce the "new"-ness and the European-ness of a "New York."

For his installation Diary of Trees Heap of Birds combines what he calls "text drawings" with large pylons with Y-shaped tops, abstractions of trees, arranged within a larger gallery space. Among Heap of Birds' preferred media ("Thoughts"), "text drawings" are made from sweeping fragments of text that crisscross space and establish visual currents and eddies, much like the concrete poems of Guillaume Apollinaire and other Dadaists. The rectangular format of large text drawings around the walls alternates with tall Y-shaped elements mounted flat against the walls. Each pylon is a four-sided independent construction, nearly twice as tall as a human. Besides referring to trees, they also recall the human form, gigantic in scale, arms lifted heavenward in protest or praise. The trees themselves are covered with marks, signs, and words such as "NATIVE UNITY GLOBAL ALLIES" AND "1868 WASHITA RIVER MASSACRE" The entire installation is in black and white--black marks on white backdrops. The stark absence of color works both to cast the work as objective and documentary and to emphasize the messages (rather than the forms upon which the messages are posted). Both Diary of Trees and Native Hosts combine image and text in ways that alter the landscape as well as its (rightful or fraudulent) inhabitants.


Charlene Teters's lifetime work as an activist on behalf of Indigenous peoples has galvanized communities across the continent in their efforts to protect civil rights, to promote environmentalist practices and policies, and to mediate the public imagination regarding Native cultures and communities. One of her installation pieces, Route 66 Revisited: It Was Only an Indian, is an imagetextual landscape that critiques the nostalgia surrounding a New Mexico highway. Teters writes:
   This installation takes a look at the darker side of romantic Route
   66 as it passes through Indian Country. In towns like Albuquerque
   and Gallup the development of roadside tourism and businesses are
   historically counterpointed by starker realities of the Indian
   people touched by Route 66. Route 66 was a boundary, an artery, an
   indelible mark upon the land that came to represent America's sense
   of mobile harmony and national unity, bringing the west into the
   national mind. It brought exploitation to Indian Country in the
   form of bars, pawn shops, skid row and the idea that the Indian is
   a tourist attraction, a national novelty. Route 66 Revisited: It
   Was Only an Indian is a snapshot from the roadside. (Route 66

As a whole, the installation questions the history of representation, a history that includes the valorization of traditional southwestern artistic practices in the service of early-twentieth-century collectors' constructions of an independent cultural identity for "America" (Mullin). Route 66 Revisited exposes how the Native's presence in the southwestern landscape was appropriated for nationalist purposes. Teters's use of the highway as "artery" and "mark" bears comparison to the way the Rio Grande has become an indelible boundary for Chicanos. In the case of Route 66, Teters juxtaposes nostalgia, represented by old photographs and neon signage (for instance), with critique, as in the neon sign "Squaw." The pink neon script, glamorous and feminized, intensifies the horror of the sexist and racist appellation. Dean Rader, writing about lyric poetry by Native Americans (as an extension of speech acts such as the ghost dance), contends that "Native Americans see language as a viable weapon to protect cultural identity and sovereignty" in the context of contemporary visual culture's abuses (148). With the pink word "Squaw," Teters indicts popular culture's supposed carelessness and exposes the deliberateness of racism; at the same time, she deploys the word-as-image, with its rosy sharpness and precise neon aim, as a weapon to assert Native women's agency.

In another installation project combining image and text to critique the American landscape-as-nation, Baseball and Playing Indian, Teters provided the American Museum of Natural History with a space where visitors could respond to the cultural icons that have represented Indigenous peoples (variously) as ignorant, fearsome, absurd, buffoonish, cute, and rigid--all for the sake of promoting sports teams. Visitors were invited to post their reactions after viewing her work, documenting how the installation affected popular conceptions of the practice of using racist team mascots. The displays' structures simultaneously played on display practices (from dioramas, to arrays of cultural artifacts and human remains, to historical reenactments) throughout the world of natural history museums. In one scene Teters assembles a blinding assortment of racist images, none of them antique, all geared toward sports fans as well as--significantly enough--to children. Objects include a lunch box, a doll, a set of plastic daggers, T-shirts for infants and adults, and mascot statuettes. Floating in the case, a transparent layer casting an ephemeral shadow across several items, is a photographed image of Teters herself, printed on a sheet of clear plastic. The rhetorical move is clear: the real superimposes itself upon the fictive--and, while faintly rendered by comparison to the garish promotional items, the real woman casts a real shadow over racist representations.


Of course, Indigenous artists of the Americas didn't wait until the twentieth century to contest colonialist Landscape discourse. Mary Louise Pratt recounts how in 1613 (ten years after the word "landscape" first appeared written in English [Lorch]) Andean writer and artist Guaman Poma de Ayala produced a twelve-hundred-page letter to King Philip III of Spain written in a mixture of Quechua and Spanish. It was lost for centuries and then rediscovered in the Danish Royal Archives in Copenhagen in 1908. Pratt writes:
   Titled the New Chronicle and Good Government and Justice, the
   manuscript proposed nothing less than a new view of the world. It
   began by rewriting the history of Christendom to include the
   indigenous peoples of America, then went on to describe in great
   detail the history and lifeways of the Andean peoples and their
   leaders. This was followed by a revisionist account of the Spanish
   conquest, and hundreds of pages documenting and denouncing Spanish
   exploitation and abuse. The four hundred illustrations followed the
   European genre of the captioned line drawing but, as subsequent
   research revealed, they deployed specifically Andean structures of
   spatial symbolism.... Guaman Poma's letter ends with a mock
   interview in which he advises the King as to his responsibilities,
   and proposes a new form of government through collaboration of
   Andean and Spanish elites. (2)

Reproduced on the third page of Pratt's Imperial Eyes is Poma de Ayala's "drawing of biblical creation.... The drawing is organized according to Andean symbolic space, with Adam and the rooster on the "male" side of the picture under the male symbol of the sun and Eve, the chickens and the children on the female side, marked by the moon" (3). Pratt further describes how other elements participate in the representational system: "The two spheres are divided by a diagonal here marked by Adam's digging stick, a basic tool of Andean agriculture. The Inca empire was likewise laid out in four kingdoms divided by two diagonals intersecting at the city of Cuzco". The image depicts Adam and Eve, the dawn of humankind, in the first of five precolonial human ages that culminate in the age of Christ (Pratt 3).

Perhaps Poma de Ayala represents Cuzco's second diagonal dividing the Inca Empire as well. Another strongly rhyming image later in the manuscript depicts the first age of the Indians. Here, the sun has passed overhead to hover on the feminine side of the page; or maybe the sun shifts in the sky to make room for the imposing lettering, which intones: First Generations--Vari Vira Cocha Runa. Like Adam and Eve, the Indian couple work together to till the soil and wear roughly made clothing that exposes the limbs, though the Indians' clothing is made of leaves rather than of animal skins. In both scenes mountains punctuate the horizon line, and the digging stick is a central element of the composition. The message is clear: Poma de Ayala's paired images argue that the broad landscape of the earth, nearly destroyed in God's flood, is the Eden of exile for both the Spaniards and the Andeans. His drawings and words conflate Christendom's original humans with the first Andeans, toiling under the same sun and moon to draw sustenance from the same soil. Because his message to Spain's king takes up colonialist practices to resist colonialist rule and because he connects image, text, and landscape for rhetorical leverage, Poma de Ayala forecasts these same practices among present-day Indigenous artists.

When sighted Westerners have navigated the world, their optic consciousness has constructed a horizon line, a continuous set of furthermost points, a zone of distance or remoteness to attain their sense of balance and perspective. It was no accident that the Dutch, whose innovations included the landscape as a genre of painting, led the way around the globe. And, as Edward Said observes, orientalizing is not just about holding difference at arm's length and enjoying the view; it's also about exploiting difference as a gyroscopic mechanism that allows the center to stabilize itself in relation to an absolute periphery. This dual nature of orientalism is precisely what casts the landscape, with its ubiquitous horizon line, as a key cultural project in service to colonialism.

But Westerners have always misunderstood how vision works since the days when eyes were thought to emit "eye beams" that acted on the surfaces they touched; instead, light enters us, only pausing for a moment on the film of the retina before diving into the farthest reaches of our minds. Vision doesn't change what we see; what we see changes us. And when the horizon's inhabitants draw up their own schemes for managing perspective from the margins, schemes that are textual as well as optic, they work toward disorientation, reorientation. In the 2003 exhibition catalog Lifeworlds--Artscapes: Contemporary Iroquois Art Tuscarora artist and educator Jolene Rickard writes:
   What's left to mine from the intellectual terrain of land for an
   Indian woman? Land and Indians, it's a cliche--or that's what a
   sharp cultural theorist would quip. Environmentalist desire will be
   stoked because an Indian really cares about "Mother Earth."
   "Post-feminists" should wail on this work as evidence of gender
   balance gone bad, as Post-colonialists ignore the ongoing
   dispossession of indigenous peoples in the Americas. Go ahead take
   another chunk of my skin, I'll heal, thick with scars. Be sure to
   stuff your treaties into the place that once was mine. (Quoted in
   Kasprycki and Stambrau 76)

On the page across from Rickard's multidirectional statement about Indigenous women's relationship with the land, a black-and-white photograph depicts her sculpture, One Square Foot of Earth or One Square Foot of Real Estate--You Decide #2. Its primary element is a cube whose panels are made from photographs of grass growing from cracked soil; the cube perches upon four lengths of rebar, each fixed to a corner of the cube's base. Below, the rebar is attached to a flat circle of rough metal, etched with lettering, that reads: "ONE SQUARE FOOT EARTH UNREAL ESTATE," the "UN" tilted sideways. Each "E" is formed from three parallel lines to form marks much like intensified equal signs, the sign "[??]," mathematical language for identical to, further critiquing the equation of land with commodity.

As an instrument of imperialism, traditional landscape meets fierce resistance in critical image-and-text "landscapes" by Indigenous artists such as Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Edgar Heap of Birds, and Charlene Teeters as well as others, including Jolene Rickard, Corwin Clairmont, G. Peter Jemison, Nora Naranjo-Morse, Marianne Nicholson, Shelly Niro, C. Maxx Stevens, Ryan Rice, Peter B. Jones, Gerald Clarke, Gerald McMaster, Fay HeavyShield, Greg A. Hill, and James Luna. Combining the pictorial and the verbal, they hold representation in a limbo of syntactic contingency. There they challenge "majority" visual and rhetorical constructions of the land. All of them conduct explicit imagetextual conversations with contemporary urbanization, globalization, nostalgia, and racism. In some cases they argue persuasively for decolonization of the land; in others they propose a new landscape in which the white body experiences the hardships of homelessness and exile.

I wish to thank Ottawa University for supporting my travel to present this research at the American Studies Association conference in November 2005.


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(1.) Where possible, I provide Internet addresses for digital reproductions of images discussed. Readers should consult the works cited section.

(2.) While research in visual cultural studies has yielded a great deal of important knowledge about race as a visual construction, and while image and text fusions are widely understood both to function as carriers of oppressive ideologies and to have extraordinary revolutionary potential (see Mitchell, among others), the two threads have rarely crossed, except in image-and-text projects by persons of color. My research in this area began with my "Inscription and Vision."

(3.) John draws on trends in "the new cultural geography," a field that has attended to the pictorial discourse of landscape art to describe historicized social constructions of nations, territories, etc. (178).

(4.) Moreton-Robinson notes that, in the context of Australia's colonization, Indigenous people were "at the level of the subconscious ... perceived to be part of the landscape and thus not human" (26).

(5.) Mitchell develops the term imagetext in his study of pictorial-textual representation and defines it as "composite, synthetic works (or concepts) that combine image and text" (Picture Theory 89n). For the histories and associations of these juxtapositions see Mitchell, Picture Theory.

(6.) Consider, for instance, works of Adrian Piper, Enrique Chagoya, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Walter K. Lew, Guillermo Gomez-Pena, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Betye Saar, Coco Fusco, and Amalia Mesa-Bains.

(7.) Min's collages in this series are reproduced in the critical anthology Writing Self, Writing Nation.

(8.) My dissertation's second chapter, "DICTEE's Proximate Body: Critical Imagetexts by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Yong Soon Min, and Walter K. Lew," explores Min's image and text work further ("Inscription and Vision").

(9.) The panel took place during the 2003 conference of the Native American Art Studies Association (NAASA) and was entitled "Read Me: Text and Image in Contemporary Native American Art." The participants were Kate Morris, Rick Hill, Allan J. Ryan, and Zena Pearlstone (chair).

(10.) As Indigenous scholars Cornel D. Pewewardy and D. Anthony Tyeeme Clark have demonstrated, racism is expressed in imagetextual representations of Indigenous peoples, especially in team mascots and advertising.

(11.) Char-Koosta News, produced in Pablo, Montana, is the official newspaper of the Flathead Indian Reservation.

(12.) Pearlstone's most critical observations concern Quick-to-See Smith's references to signing hands in certain paintings in her Tonto series: "The representation of sign language in this context adds nuance, sign language being a form of communication that is itself both text and image" (77).
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Title Annotation:Special Section
Author:Ohnesorge, Karen
Publication:The American Indian Quarterly
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2008
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