ON INDIGENOUS LIFE AND SOCIAL MEDIA
In local artist Frank Buffalo Hyde’s latest exhibition I-Witness Culture, he explores issues of Native culture and stereotypes in the age of smartphones and computer tablets, and how modern technology can be used to advance Native causes or harm them. The show of paintings and sculpture, which opens Friday, Feb. 3, at the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, draws on current events, pop culture, and advertisements to present a view of contemporary Natives at odds with non-Native perceptions. On the cover is Buffalo Hyde’s acrylic painting Zombie Nation from 2016; image courtesy MIAC.
Visit a Native dance ceremony, and once the cameras come out, we are no longer engaged in the moment. In Frank Buffalo Hyde’s painting Four Dancers, a traditional buffalo dance is seen from the point of view of the spectator. Multiple hands holding cellphones obscure the view. The techdriven world, the world of the small screen, plays a part in I-Witness Culture, a solo exhibition of Buffalo Hyde’s recent work on exhibit at the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture. “A lot of the paintings in the show are about how we experience our reality through a digital filter now,” the artist told Pasatiempo. “It’s almost desensitizing us in the sense that something’s not real unless we’ve posted it on social media.” Drawing on images from advertising, movies, television, popular music, and politics, Buffalo Hyde’s compositions are a commentary on contemporary society, consumerism, and the contradictory aspects of images, which can be used as a means to deceive or as a means of documenting. “When I speak at different events I tell people that social media is a very useful tool but you have to be cautious, because it’s also a way of controlling people and getting out disinformation,” he said. “As with any sort of advancement in technology, it’s a double-edged sword. It’s all about how you use it and disseminate the information you get from it.”
I-Witness Culture features 14 of Buffalo Hyde’s paintings and three of his sculptures. All were made specifically for the exhibition, which is divided into three sections: Paranormal: The Truth Is Out There; Selfie SKNDNS; and In-Appropriate. Paranormal concerns myths of the American Indian, challenging the notion of indigenous peoples as remnants of the past. “At one of my first museum shows here in Santa Fe, I equated Native Americans with Bigfoot, because we had obtained that mythological status,” he said. “When we were growing up and people found out you were Native American, they would be surprised because they thought all Native Americans were gone. They absolutely didn’t think there were any east of the Mississippi. They wanted to take a picture of you. They wanted to touch your hair, asked if you lived in teepees, and all that stuff. So it’s an examination of the ridiculousness of that.”
Selfie SKNDNS reclaims the word “Indian” and the derogatory term “skins.” The paintings developed from a previous exhibition called SKNDNS: Native
Americans on Film, in which Buffalo Hyde examined the role of the Native in cinema as depicted by Native and non-Native actors. Selfie SKNDNS uses the terminology of social media to explore civilrights violations and discrimination in the age of technology. “In my mind the cellphone technology is a way for people to document protest,” Buffalo Hyde said. “If you look at Standing Rock, if they hadn’t