American Indian graffiti muralism: Survivance and geosemiotic signposts in the American cityscape

American Indian graffiti muralism is a terminology that embodies the contemporary public art form of mural production by American Indian artists using public art installations to express ontologies of sovereignty, self-determination, and identity in different public spaces and on different objects. To date, there is no scholarship that has focused solely on American Indian graffiti muralism and ethnic markers within the medium of graffiti muralism. The dissertation, “American Indian Graffiti Muralism: Demystifying the Graffiti Medium and the Visual Harmonics of American Indian Signatures on the Modern Landscape,” centers on the functionality of American Indian graffiti murals as markers of sovereignty, self-determination and identity in off-reservation municipal urban settings. Using a mixed methods framework of both qualitative and quantitative analysis this dissertation will provide new scholarship within the field of American Indian/Native American Studies and discourses on Native art and Native public art. Due to the fact that these public artworks contain multiple functions and meanings a mixed methods interdisciplinary analysis using the American Indian theoretical model of Survivance coupled with a social science theory of Geosemiotics, interviews with American Indian graffiti muralists, and quantitative empirical data collected through community-based Q survey creates a multi-narrative on the functionality of American Indian graffiti muralism.

The aim of this research is to explore the functionality of different American Indian graffiti mural installations using Gerald Vizenor’s Indigenous theory of survivance and the social science theory of geosemiotics. The theory of survivance aids analysis on how American Indian graffiti muralists infuse iconography and visual semiotic elements in their public art installations that (re)claim public spaces and infuse ontologies of sovereignty, self-determination, and identity in cityscapes. This is the first usage of survivance theory with Native public art and provides an ethnically appropriate means to investigate American Indian graffiti muralism. Geosemiotics theory provides analysis on how different American Indian graffiti murals interact with the physical landscape they reside within to create ideals of place and place perceptions in the populace. Geosemiotic analysis of American Indian graffiti murals illuminates how the art adds to a pluralistic public dialectic of place. By creating a dualistic theoretical lens this research addresses the suggestion that new discourses on Native art and Native public art require more analysis involving theoretical models and Indigenous ways of knowing through use of survivance theory, while also showing how a secondary social science theory can bolster a qualitative narrative on the functionality of Native public art. Artistic analysis is inherently subjective and the multi-theoretical application in this dissertation addresses how subjectivity and socio-political elements of American Indian graffiti muralism require a fully rounded framework to explore the function of these installations in our cities.

The narratives of American Indian graffiti muralists regarding their mural installations offer intimate knowledge on the function of this art form and in this research provides first-person accounts of how artists approach public art differently than their studio art productions. It was also important to offer the perspectives from the artists themselves to illuminate how this graffiti muralism came to be the chosen form of artistic expression. The conversations with Yatika Fields and Jaque Fragua offer a secondary perspective to those of the researcher and public citizens.

To further capture all of the perceptions surrounding American Indian graffiti muralism a public survey using Q methodology was completed to provide a platform for community-based input. Q methodology was used as a means to collect empirical data on the subjective attitudes towards American Indian graffiti murals. The output of Q surveying provided the first empirical data on American Indian graffiti muralism and concluded the multi-narrative of this project in the statements generated and tested by multiple public citizens. Furthermore, this multi-narrative foundation furthers future discourses in American Indian/Native American studies, the social sciences, and Native art historical research by offering elements that each can utilize as points of discussion and dissection.


Gavin Healey


Ronald Trosper




College of Social and Behavioral Sciences