Joe Harjo:Indian Holding a Weapon; Breath, 2019
relief performance prints
courtesy of the artist
“The Only Certain Way: Joe Harjo at Sala Diaz,” Neil Fauerso, Glasstire
“My work uncovers the lack of visibility of Native culture, lived experience, and identity in America, due to both the absence of proper representation in mainstream culture and the undermining of Native belief systems. I challenge what is societally considered ‘Native American’ and what is not to dismantle the perceived spaces where, in the view of mainstream society, Indians are allowed and expected to exist, as well as the visual notion of what an ‘Indian’ should look like in those spaces.”
Joe Harjo is a multidisciplinary artist from the Muscogee Creek Nation of Oklahoma and a board member of the Muscogee Arts Association, a nonprofit organization that advocates for living Muscogee artists. His reclamation work towards visibility, presence, and ancestral knowledge animate itself through materials and approaches in ways that illuminate the bridge to new futures across a chasm of erasure and appropriation deeply ingrained in American culture. His recent work has featured stunning black and white photography examining how Christianity is inscribed on Native bodies, Pendleton towels installed in memorial flag cases and assembled in complex, multicolored crosses, and, in the evolving Indian Holding a Weapon series, a practice that merges these strategies and critiques the institutions, and the acts of looking, in which colonialist pathologies find safety.
The Indian Holding a Weapon series, a selection of which is included in this exhibition, are performance prints created by Harjo as he stood on paper with ink on the soles of his feet or his shoes – while holding an object or considering a concept. Of this process, Harjo has written, “When I am ‘Holding’ intangible ‘Weapons’ I consider my presence, my breathing, the blood in my veins and my consciousness and how that connects me to my ancestors in an immediate way. If I am holding a tangible ‘Weapon’ then I consider my presence in relation to the object and how it is or has been used as a weapon and by whom and the lives that it has affected, both negatively and positively.” When presented as a series on the walls of a museum or gallery, this series asks who – and whose histories, experiences, identities – are welcome in our institutions; with care and complexity, the Indian Holding a Weapon series asks those who come before these prints to consider the ground on which they stand, and what they have carried with them to get there.
Joe Harjo has exhibited his work widely, and he is a recent Harpo Foundation Native American Residency Fellow and recipient of a Blue Star Contemporary Berlin Residency hosted by Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Germany. Harjo currently resides in San Antonio, Texas where he is the Chair of Photography at the Southwest School of Art.
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