Indigenous Flags 2, 3 & 4. Medium: Inkjet print on fabric
Gregg Deal’s exhibition “Yadooa Hookwu (I Will Speak Now)” is a combination of tested pop art techniques and Indigenous Native American images. Combining both historical photos with bubble gum and comic book images of “indians warriors,” Deal, a member of the Paiute Tribe of Pyramid Lake, stylizes the images with both traditional patterns and Warholian aesthetics. Blistering utterances come from the mouths of these characters, but the origins of the phrases aren’t what they seem.
Entering the UMKC Gallery of Art, the first work that dominates the space is “Indigenous Flags 2, 3 & 4.” Strung from floor to ceiling in the middle of the room, three fabric sheets stretch diagonally, reminiscent of a tent. On the fabric, stylized American flags are printed in solid colors, but the typical stars and stripes are replaced with zigzagging and crisscrossing patterns taken from Native American textiles. Behind the enormous tent-like work is yet another American flag, with similar patterns, but this one is hung upside down in a typical punk-rock gesture.
Further in, a series of Warhol-style prints called “Indian Bowie (Ziggindigenous)” cover a long wall. The 10 prints depict the same image in different colors, a Native American man in historical garb with feathers and necklaces but with David Bowie’s iconic Ziggy Stardust lightning-bolt makeup covering the left eye.
In the second room, a series of acrylic paintings depict images of old cowboys and Indians comics, the kind of imagery common to bubblegum packs and pulp magazines during much the 20th century. Highly muscular and stylized “redmen” are seen fighting against white colonists, tossing them around, choking them and dodging bowie knives. In comic book-style speech bubbles the cartoon Indians utter threatening invectives: “You can’t hurt me! I’m banned in DC” and “Give me convenience or give me death!” and “They take away our freedom. In the name of liberty. Why can’t they all just clear off? Why can’t they let us be? They make us feel indebted for saving us from hell. And then they put us through it, it’s time the bastards fell.”
Perhaps you recognize some of those lines, they come from punk rock anthems by Bad Brains, the Dead Kennedys and Suspect Device. Or perhaps you’d recognize a better-known line on the painting “Anarchy (Sex Pistols)”: “I am an anti-christ, I am an anarchist, Don’t know what I want, But I know how to get it.” The change of context, from 1980’s punk rock lyrics to the mouths of comic-book Indian warriors transforms these rebellious calls. For example, “You can’t hurt me! I’m banned in DC!,” originally about how the African American punk band Bad Brains was banned from most venues in Washington, D.C., now calls to mind the recent name change of the Washington Football team from the Redskins and the banning of all former chants and images associated with the Redskins logo.
But the lyrics are perhaps changed in another, more direct manner. In a statement at the exhibition, Deal writes: “What you think it looks like, it isn’t, and what you feel is familiar has been rebooted.” A very punk rock attitude! But it should make any viewer ask themselves: ‘Am I looking at yet another art exhibition with genre typical pop-art inversions or am I seeing something more literal?’ It would almost be too simple to give this exhibition the typical interpretation through the language of art history and art criticism and completely ignore a much simpler message: turn the flag upside down, fight back, revolt.
“Gregg Deal: Yadooa Hookwu (I Will Speak Now)” continues at the UMKC Gallery of Art, 5015 Holmes St., through Nov. 5. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Saturday. For more information 816.235.1502 or info.umkc.edu/gallery