Images of Native America

From Walt Disney's rendering of Pocahontas to the iconography of the Washington Redskins football team, Native American figures are often depicted problematically, relegated to a pre-industrialized past that exists separately from mainstream, modern culture. This course examined the prejudices, stereotypes, and cultural appropriations associated with Native peoples in the United States and Canada through the lens of indigenous art. Students examined how Native people and history have been traditionally represented in paintings, murals, photographs, museum exhibitions, and in popular culture. Students also examined how indigenous artists have responded to representations of their culture that honor, or in many ways betray, truths about Native cultures and peoples. This course was not a chronological assessment of Native art, but a rigorous look at critical issues regarding race and stereotype as treated by Native art. Students were introduced to these concepts through class lectures, assigned readings, class discussions, and presentations by experts in the community. Students also took advantage of the unique resources in the Washington, D.C. area through guided tours at the National Museum of the American Indian, the United States Capitol Building, and the Canadian Embassy. A special collaboration with Paul Chaat Smith, curator of the National Museum of the American Indian, provided another unique opportunity to participate in ongoing debates about images of Native America. This course (ARTH 419) was taught by Shana Klein as a Doyle Seminar (small upper-level classes that foster deepened student learning about diversity and difference through research and dialogue).

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