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James Luna

Postmemory and Take a Picture With a Real Indian

Alicia Harris

on 27 November 2012

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Transcript of James Luna

Frank A. Rinehart, 1898 The Vanishing Race Edward S. Curtis, 1907 Oasis in the Badlands Why Photographs? Art Speigelman Maus, 1980-1991 Post Memory Marianne Hirsch 2011, NMAI James Luna
and the
Post Memory Take A Picture With A Real Indian Agnes Antoine & baby & Adelaide Kicking Horse (Spokan Flathead) Edward S. Curtis, 1907 Marianne Hirsch coined the term “postmemory” in the mid-1990s as a means to describe the relationship which succeeding generations which proceed a traumatic event bear to the “personal, collective, and cultural trauma of those who came before--to experiences they ‘remember’ only by means of the stories, images, and behaviors among which they grew up.” Traumas are transmitted to the secondary and tertiary post-trauma generations so deeply and effectively by objects like photographs so as to seem to constitute memories in their own right. Hirsch and other writers
have most expressly applied this theorization of photography to descendants of Holocaust survivors, which is an event which lends itself to deep and echoing effects of trauma. But Hirsch argues more deeply, that this model, through which she spends much time viewing the Holocaust, can be applied more broadly to families in many other contexts. In fact, Hirsh turns her attention to family photographs through a Lacanian analysis of photographs, stating that all families are “historicized and contextualized- marked by race, class, historical moment and relation, nationality, ethnicity, and sexuality among other determinants. There is a long history of Anglo-Americans taking photographs of Native Americans.
Their motivations varied, but the end result was the objectification of Native Americans as subjects for the controlling gaze of Anglo American consumption. Images like these sought to romanticize and memorialize Native American populations. It was perceived by Anglo-Americans in the late 19th century, that Native Americans would become extinct within the next few decades.

Reliance on these depictions of Native Americans today solidifies contemporary Native American invisibility and the silencing of Native voices. Through contemporary minority artists, the theorization of the Postmemory can be broadened to consider other traumas beyond the Holocaust.

James Luna's piece, Take a Picture with A Real Indian is a work prime to lead such an expansion. James Luna Take A Picture With A Real Indian, 2010 https://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=10100243886416480 Indian people always have been fair game, and I don’t think people quite understand that we’re not game. Just because I’m an identifiable Indian, it doesn’t mean I’m there for the taking.

But in the long run I’m making a statement for me, and through me, about people’s interaction with American Indians, and the selective romanticization of us.
-James Luna Native Americans experienced trauma in the loss of homeland, culture, language and life ways. This trauma is documented and romanticized throughout the 19th and 20th centuries in photographs.
These photographs provide the basis for a stereotyped image of "Indian" identity. It doesn’t really matter what I am. I know what I am. See, that’s the point. I’ll be in a plane. And someone’s sitting next to me. And they’re looking at me. And they’re wondering what this guy is. And they’ll ask me: “Excuse me sir, are you Native American, are you Indian, or Hawaiian?” I get that a lot too. One of the most troubling questions that I hear is, “Are you full blood?” For me, an Indian is foremost somebody who is culturally Native. They know their tribe, their cultural background and their “Indian ways,” as we would say amongst ourselves.

I’ve also had people come up to me and say, “My grandmother was a Cherokee,” and they don’t look Indian and I disregard it. But when they say, “I’m from Oklahoma, and my uncle was so and so, and I just got back from this place,” then it becomes different because I realize that they’re involved culturally. Does that make it different for me? Yes, because I come from a cultural background. In answer to your question, yes, I am Native. I am an enrolled member of a tribe. I live on a reservation. What is a "Real" Indian? -James Luna, 2010
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