James Luna

James Luna is known for pushing boundaries in his installations, where he engages audiences by making himself part of a tableau

(Katherine Fogden / National Museum of the American Indian)
Smithsonian Magazine | Subscribe

(Continued from page 1)

What are some of the other surprising reactions you've gotten?
Well, shock and dismay, sadness, empathy, association. I changed that "Take a picture with a real Indian" at the last moment during one performance. I took down my headband and it covered my face. I said "Take a picture with a real Middle Easterner." Everybody's mouth dropped. It wasn't so fun anymore. I was just doing something spontaneous because it was something timely on my mind. It really wasn't that far from what I was saying, but for some people it was. It certainly reminded them that this is current news. There are definitely some racial things going on in our society today.

Tell me about your latest work, "Emendatio" (Latin for emendation or correction), which pays tribute to the 19th—century Native American Pablo Tac?
Tac took the perceptions of our culture from being looked at as spear chuckers to linguists. How many people knew that we had this person who trained in the ministry of the Catholic Church in Rome, who started to devise our own alphabet and stories from an    Indian point of view? Today we're looking to recapture our language. That's a key to any culture and it will make us stronger. That's one of the first things that we were denied, was our language and our religion.

It's something that I wish other people knew that maybe would change people's attitudes about us. For our people he's a really important figure. Here it was over 100 years ago someone trying to learn English. Pablo Tac was absorbing this language because he could see the future for our people, which didn't look good. One way to make the culture survive a little is to write it down.


Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus