Road Signs, Tribal Lands and Hot Dogs

Exhibition Dates: August 17, 2001 - September 17, 2001

Andrew Smith Gallery celebrates Indian Market 2001 with an exhibit of new photographs by Zig Jackson titled Road Signs, Tribal Lands and Hot Dogs, with an opening reception for the artist on Saturday, August 18, 2001 from 5 to 7 p.m. Zig Jackson is an American Indian artist who uses photography to de-mythologize his own history and to break down the romanticized stereotypes of Indians perpetuated by popular media and folklore. Jackson was raised on a reservation in North Dakota and is an enrolled member of three affiliated tribes: Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara. After attending the photography program at the University of New Mexico, Jackson moved to San Francisco, California, an experience he later described as profoundly alienating. He articulated his feelings of isolation and the need to claim a space for himself in a series of silver print photographs titled, Entering Zig's Indian Reservation. In recent years Jackson's work has been exhibited widely, He has been a guest lecturer and artist at Stanford University and The Smithsonian Institution. He currently teaches at Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia.

With the end of each spring semester Jackson packs his car with camera equipment and heads for places throughout the United States that have special meaning to Native Americans. When he was young, Jackson he had an intense desire to meet as many Native People as he could. Over the years he has done just this, traveling throughout New Mexico, Arizona, California, North Dakota, South Dakota, Arkansas, Utah, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, and elsewhere. Exposed to so many different tribal groups he has gained considerable perspective on issues important to Indian people, as well as acquiring "proper Native American etiquette," Thus, he tends to be warmly welcomed wherever he goes, and invited into homes to rest and eat. Indian tribal groups are as culturally diverse as the regions they inhabit, distinguished from each other by appearance, language, and social mannerisms. And yet all share the reality of being, at times, strangers in what was once their own land, in the aftermath of a vanished frontier and government policies that forced them from their homelands and onto reservations. In the straightforward photographic style of Robert Frank, Jackson captures the world of contemporary Indians, touching upon complex issues of tourism, marketing, myth, power sites, traditions, and stereotyping. In Jackson's photographs eagle feathers collide with hot dogs stands, road signs recall vanished animal herds, and ancient traditions are surprisingly intact, or are sold for profit. The exhibit continues through September 17, 2001.

Hotdogs, Corndogs, and Cold Drinks, Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, North Dakota, 1999

Visiting a pow-wow on the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota, Jackson photographed fast food stands where a line of dancers bedecked with eagle feathers feasted on hotdogs. The dancers' costumes seem no less exotic than the large, handpainted signes advertising "Hotdogs, Corndogs, and Cold Drinks." For Jackson, the irony of this incongruous image is that hot dogs are as much a part of American mythology as Indians wearing feathered headdresses.

Take a Picture of the Indian, Cherokee, North Carolina, 2000

In the town of Cherokee, North Carolina Jackson spent the day watching an elderly Indian man engaged in an activity called "chiefing." Dressed in full regalia, he allowed himself to be photographed for money by tourists who viewed him as a relic of a romantic past. When Jackson tried to discuss with the old man that this was demeaning to Indian culture he was told the old man had been making his living doing this for twenty years, and not to get in the way of business. Furthermore, if Jackson was going to photograph him he would had to pay like everyone else. Jackson took photographs but was distrubed by the whole incident. In his diptych, the left panel photograph shows the old man posing with two blond boys and their father seated beside him while his wife takes their picture. In the right panel the old man, isolated from any human contact, walks away from Jackson's camera.

What Fools These Mortals Be I & II, Mesa Verde, Colorado, 1995

Jackson often photographs ancient Indian sites that are currently part of the national parks system. Lands once profoundly sacred to Native people, or the scenes of battles that changed the course of Indian history are now popular recreational spots. In some cases, the sites are being damaged by the sheer number of tourists drawn to them. Jackson created a diptych of tourists wandering through the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde. He split-toned the images so that the tourists appear garishly white against the sepia-toned background. The title of the piece, What Fools these Mortals Be, recalls how in the late 1800s, two Anglo cowboys traveling on horseback through the canyon found Indian ruins filled with ancient pottery. Knowing museums would buy the pots the men ransacked the place. Years later, when the archeologist Alfred V. Kidder was excavating the same site, he discovered a small room high up on the cliff that had been used for storing grains. Excited to have finally found a room untouched by the cowboys he clambered into it, only to find scrawled on the wall the words, "What fools these mortals be." Realizing the cowboys had pirated his room as well, Kidder suddenly grasped that the ruins had been shamelessly plundered. Stealing, according to Jackson, can take many forms. From an Indian perspective tourists are simply following in the cowboy's footsteps.

Confusion; Northwest South Dakota, 2000

Through his photography Jackson explores how Indian people are valued as a commodity. In some cases, this is quite a literal business, such as the numerous Indian trinket gift shops around the country. Jackson's photograph, Indian Souvenirs, Indian Drums, Beaded Belts, Indian Dolls; I-40, New Mexico, 1998 is one example. Yet marketing things Indian can take more subtle forms. Traveling through the empty plains of northwest South Dakota, Jackson came across a road sign for the towns of Bison and Buffalo, each as invisble as the extinct animal herds once sacred to Plains Indians.

Praying, New Mexico, 1992

Jackson questions the changing face of power in his photographs of nuclear power plants and in his diptych titled, "Praying." For this work he visited the Very Large Array of radio antennas near Socorro, New Mexico. The left panel of "Praying" is a photograph of the massive dishes turned toward the sky, the right panel shows a nude self-portrait of the artist praying to the heavens, with the radio dishes appearing somewhat diminished in the background.

Maaxubaa-wea (Holy Woman) #1 and #2, New Mexico, 1990

Drawing from the mythology of his Mandan roots, Jackson created two photographs of a nude, masked woman dancing in the wilderness. In Mandan belief, The Holy Woman is a lovely, seductive being who lives in the trees as a raven and lures men off their course. As a child, Jackson was told by his mother that ravens, whose varied speech almost sounds human, would steal his soul if he was weak. She warned him that if he ever fell down he must get up quickly or the ravens would snatch him into their realm. This warning has stayed with him all his life, along with its underlying meaning; to survive one must fight all forms of weakness and stay strong in the face of adversity. This is the danger facing Indian people everywhere, Jackson tells us through his photograph.

Liz Kay