I love the way Fritz Scholder (1937-2005) challenged the popular perception of Native Americans and how his work continues to break down stereotypes. Super Indian is currently at the Denver Art Museum, on view through January 17, 2016.

In order to fully appreciate Scholder’s work, I think some context is in order. Here are some traditional images of Native Americans:

Little Wolf by George Catlin
Little Wolf by George Catlin
A Sioux Chief by Frederic Remington
A Sioux Chief by Frederic Remington
Lucille, Dakota Sioux by Edward Curtis
Lucille, Dakota Sioux by Edward Curtis

Whether or not these depictions were accurate at the time they were produced (still, with the understanding that they were made by non-native artists and illustrated their perception), the trouble is that entire generations held on to these types of images as defining images. Especially troubling is how this art followed the systematic displacement of many Native American Tribes and numerous broken promises via treaties by the U.S. Government.

One of the reasons I appreciate Scholder’s work is because despite the terrible acts and mistreatment that Native Americans endured, elements of humor can be seen in his paintings.

Indian in Car by Fritz Scholder
Indian in Car by Fritz Scholder

This is one of my favorites of the exhibit. Not only do we get a Native American in a space we’re not used to seeing them, it looks to me as if the old notion of them wearing a feather and a leather vest is vanishing before our eyes.

Super Indian No. 2 by Fritz Scholder
Super Indian No. 2 by Fritz Scholder

I love this image. It reminds me of the time I went with a group of kids to play football against team mascots during halftime of a Broncos game. The kids were up against Dinger, Rocky, Miles, and some other mascots who I didn’t recognize. After they were done, we all walked back to the locker room. As we were walking down the hall, I think it was Dinger, who removed their head. The look on this one kid’s face was a combination of shock and loss of innocence. It’s as if the world they were living in, held up by a suspension of disbelief, tumbled. Super Indian No. 2 destroys the notion that Native Americans don’t enjoy ice cream. WE ALL scream for ice cream, no? Yes. Unless you’re lactose intolerant, then maybe you just holler for some vegan ice cream.

Indian Land No. 4
Indian Land No. 4

I’m not a huge fan of abstract expressionism. I’m not even a moderate fan. Yet, I really enjoy this piece. Go figure. Scholder challenged my perception of abstract expressionism as well.

Here are some more pieces from the exhibit:

Indian No. 1 by Fritz Scholder
Indian No. 1
Indian at the Bar
Indian at the Bar
Indian with Blue Aura
Indian with Blue Aura
Indian and Rhinoceros
Indian and Rhinoceros

If you find yourself at the Thanksgiving table later this week reminiscing about Pilgrims and Indians, I challenge you to imagine one of Scholder’s Indians at the table. I know I will.

2 thoughts on “Show + tell: Super Indian

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