Scrolling through the Instagram of painter Frank Buffalo Hyde (of the Onondaga Nation and the Nez Perce tribe), one is confronted with works-in-progress featuring the “Winged Victory of Samothrace” and “Venus de Milo,” Mulder and Scully from the “The X-Files” and onward through far-reaching pop-culture references of both high and low registers. But Buffalo Hyde’s paintings are not tethered to a zeitgeist — his work exists on a continuum that reveals how indigenous culture is pervasive and relevant against the backdrop of today’s media culture.
This concept is the focus of a new Gilcrease Museum exhibit “I-Witness Culture,” a selection of Hyde’s work set to open Feb. 8 and run through May 10. Organized by Gilcrease’s Senior Curator Laura Fry, “I-Witness Culture” features work by Hyde that examines perception, perspective and the colonial gaze (colonialist realities) as their subject matter. This engages not only with viewers of this show, but also how natives have been depicted in the museum’s permanent collection of 19th century American art. Hyde accelerates and appropriates the Frederic Remington vision of tribal peoples by projecting that vision through iPhones that fill a canvas or placing it at native fingertips in works such as “Bison Selfie.”
But Hyde offers viewers more than a simple intersection between American Indian art and “selfie culture.”
“Frank’s work inspires us to think more broadly about our society and how these electronic devices change the way we perceive the world around us and how we are removing ourselves from our surroundings,” Fry says. “Are these communication methods shifting the way we perceive stereotypes? Are they subverting them? Are they reinforcing them in some ways?”
For contemporary native artists, and indigenous communities, technology is important to establish native visibility and forego the 20th century iconography of Hollywood Westerns and mascot caricatures. Arts and education, through both individuals and outlets like
illuminatives.org, act to bridge this cultural divide by providing a truthful window into tribal life. “I-Witness Culture” is one artist’s depiction of how indigenous culture is neither stuck in the past nor resisting the future.
Regarding 19th century American art and centuries-old issues still prevalent in our society, Fry hopes “contemporary art can be a way to bring those stories forward to the present.”
To stand in the gallery, hold one’s phone up to photograph “Buffalo Dancers Study,” upload this to Instagram and tag the artist @frankbuffalohyde — this action undoubtedly unites the Native American narrative with our digital present. It also reveals Hyde’s playful but mature self-awareness.