Watchlist: ‘Indigenous In Plain Sight’
By Kamiah Koch
Smoke Signals social media/digital journalist
Gregg Deal introduced himself as a husband, father, artist and activist during a TEDx event he spoke at in Boulder, Colo.
A video of the event was published to YouTube on June 26, 2018, and has since amassed more than 135,000 views. In his talk, called “Indigenous In Plain Sight,” Deal uses the TEDx platform to talk about the Native American topics his artwork addresses.
He shared he’s from the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe and displayed his artwork (some controversial) on the projection screens behind him. He said his artwork explores topics of Indigenous identity, historical consideration and decolonization.
Deal introduced his varied artwork: from performance art addressing blood quantum issues, murals in cities depicting Native youth identities and the type of art he focused on most in the TEDx talk, his gallery paintings.
He used his paintings to broach his interpretations as a Native artist. He believes the value of Indigenous people is low in the eyes of America and American culture. He explained he finds that more often than not, if Native people don’t fit into the stereotyped version of them, they are not seen at all.
He said in his experience, if Native artwork “fits what Western culture expects” it has a better chance of selling and artwork that “isn’t informed by the Western buyer’s market” does not.
He used one of his painting to explain. He displayed on the screen a painting of small boy standing with hunched shoulders and bloody elbows and knees. Deal explained it’s a story from a neighboring Tribe about a young Native boy who was forced to go to a residential school called Stewart Indian School in Nevada. When he entered the school they bathed him because they think he is dirty. He has dark skin so his elbows and knees have more melanin than the rest of his body. The woman bathing the boy assumed this is dirt and she scrubbed his elbows and knees until he was bleeding.
This story was the inspiration for Deal’s painting, but he said because the painting doesn’t fit the traditional type of artwork expected from Native people, he feels the reaction from non-Native people says, “These stories don’t matter.”
He challenged the audience to take his artwork and the stories he told in the TEDx talk and do their own research if they aren’t familiar with residential schools or Native life.
“Are you making spaces for Indigenous people in your home and in your workplace? Are you creating inclusion in those places?” Deal said to the audience in the video. “Are you realizing that as you walk these lands that there are people who walked these lands before you? These are sacred and important things and Indigenous people are still here and we matter.”