We followed up with Gregg Deal, local painter and performance artist, and member of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe. We interviewed him last November about his use of humor, irony and street art to raise awareness about American Indian issues and confront the public about its misconceptions and stereotypes.
You can hear him speak at an upcoming event, "Art Crimes: Misappropriations CLOSING Ceremony," on July 30 at 7:00 p.m. at The Dunes in Columbia Heights. If you need a reason to go, the event promises "performance art, power tools and destruction" from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Tell us about the project you pitched. What’s the status now?
The project that I pitched was a street art campaign, The Romantic Nationalism Project, but since then I’ve expanded on my definition of street art. It’s not necessarily just graffiti. The spirit of street art is creating something that goes out for the populace to see, without the pretense of museums or galleries—art that’s accessible to everybody. I’ve been working on a new performance art piece in that spirit, called The Last American Indian on Earth.
It’s a photo series and a short film of performance pieces where I appear in public dressed in full, traditional-looking regalia—headdress, bone chokers, the whole nine yards. Even going to the grocery store in this outfit is a confrontational act. People say all kinds of offensive things!
Really? That’s shocking to me…
You do realize we live in an area where the prominent football team is named after a racial epithet, right? If you can sing “Hail to the Redskins,” you can come up with something racist at the grocery store.
What else are you working on?
I’m also collaborating with Aaron Huey, a National Geographic photographer who has worked with the Lakota on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. We’re creating posters to raise awareness about issues that are very important to Indian Country right now. One is about Native American religious rights in prison, and the other is about the Indian Child Welfare Act.
What have you learned from your work thus far?
Flexibility! When I started, I had a very specific agenda: to do street art. But logistically, that has some issues for a full-time working artist. So this performance art piece is somewhat different. It’s out in the daylight, it involves interaction with people, and it has the capability to take on a life of its own. If I put up a big Indian-themed wheatpaste or a mural, people might see it and question it, or they might just miss it altogether. But when people are confronted with something, they are forced to react. When people think of American Indians, they think of relics—"Dances with Wolves," "The Wild Wild West Show." That’s the ingrained American fantasy stereotype. But that’s not something you actually see.
Indians are treated as though they don’t exist anymore. That’s why we can have a football team called the Washington Redskins. When you see what people perceive as a traditional-looking Indian mowing his lawn, taking the Metro, or eating Chinese food in a Chinese restaurant, suddenly it becomes a whole new concept that people have to interact with. So I’m confronting people with this question: What happens if you take that relic, that stereotype-image, and plop it into the modern day?
Do you have any requests for collaboration or calls to action? Yes, I’m looking for performance art volunteers. Some of my actions will be more confrontational than going to the grocery store, such as panhandling at the Metro. I’ll have to stay in character, so I need volunteers to help out with “buffering,” answering questions and explaining what I’m doing, since I won’t be able to break character. They’ll be part of the logistics team for the performance.