One of the most compelling contemporary Native artists whose work challenges assumptions about Native art is Bob Haozous, who has been creating socially conscious art since 1971. He is known for his monumental steel structures; simplified visual language, controversial subject matter, and ironic humor that engages and sometimes enrages the viewer. Haozous faults contemporary American Indian art as a commodity for the dominant consumer culture, stating, "Indian artists are just glorified interior decorators." 1 This statement reflects the market norm that Native art must embody meaningless stereotypes of Indian culture and must function in the art and culture system in order to be commercially viable.
Haozous's work challenges these assumptions about Native art and, for the most part, operates outside of this system. Most of Haozous's work offers the viewer a cultural critique, one that some might consider ideologically dangerous: dangerous because it questions the status quo, dangerous because it exposes the dominant culture from the point of view of the margin, and dangerous because it is in a permanent state of ambiguity, perpetually liminal. Often his work demonstrates borders, borderlands, or liminal places, both ideological borders and physical borders. The emotional affects of Haozous's art on the viewer range from discomfort to anger, from indifference to infuriated. Given the fact that much of his work is public art, it is broadly seen and many viewers can not ignore the dialogue that takes place in his art.
I examine how Bob Haozous's art depicts and critiques issues such as cultural assimilation, Indian identity, genocide, loss of language, and destruction of the earth, using humor and irony or trickster discourse, as a part of his visual language. What I propose in this dissertation is that Haozous's concept of "indigenous cultural dialogue," as expressed in his art, using visual and written language with trickster traces, provides a critical language with which to discuss Native art, cross culturally. Furthermore, that the recognizable element that can be use in the critical discussion or examination, is trickster--not trickster in corporeal form, but in subtle or obvious uses of humor or irony or in trickster's reversal of ideas.
1 Bob said this to me on our first informal meeting, I think he was hoping to shock me, but we both laughed. He insists this is in print somewhere, but neither of us has been able to find the reference.