Artists can decolonize art by paying tribute to its origin and community through political self-expression, three San Antonio artists said March 22 at a virtual panel hosted by the Office of First-Year Experience.
“Native people and our history, and our beliefs, and our customs and you know, our aesthetics, have been hijacked and taken into this other place,” said Joe Harjo, a multidisciplinary artist from the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma.
Harjo said Native American culture and symbols have been reduced to images on souvenirs and merchandise.
“The absurdity of this is that they are beach towels,” Harjo said. “So I wanted to in a sense lay them to rest but also make commentary on who we honor and who we don’t.”
About 34 students and members of the Texas A&M University-San Antonio community attended the Zoom event moderated by Justin Korver, art lecturer at A&M-San Antonio.
Although all three artists use art to express themselves, their work varies.
Harjo’s work centers around exposing the appropriation of Native American culture and lack of visibility in America.
Suzy Gonzalez is an artist, curator, zinester, educator and community organizer; her work examines the origins of food and artifacts while emphasizing the liberation of art and art history.
Anthony Francis is a photographer whose work focuses on portraiture, love and politics.
Francis said the camera and artist can deconceptualize time and narratives, and he believes that “power is adaptable.” Through his work in photography, Francis said he hoped to help deconstruct previous narratives of power and bring back power to oppressed groups.
The artists responded to a question from the audience: “What is appropriation?” Francis said that appropriation is “theft,” and Harjo added appropriation is a vanishing of traditions and futures, and that it only “benefits the people who are stealing.”
They agreed on the concept of using art as a creative outlet to express themselves about issues and be vocal in the community.
“For me it’s a lot about community and wanting to have representation of folks in our community,” Gonzalez said of the lack of representation of regular people in the community in murals.
“Even if the most privileged person in the world is making a really boring landscape painting and has no intent of it ever having any kind of conversation or change anything at all, that is incredibly political because they are that person who is choosing to make that work,” Gonzalez said.
To watch the event, visit https://fb.watch/4speTrmnby/.
For more information on the artists at their websites: joeharjo.com, suzygonzalez.com and afrancisart.com. Students also can follow the artists on Instagram: Suzy Gonzalez @800zgonzalez, Anthony Francis @anthonyefrancis and Joe Harjo @ndnstagram.
Daniel Chevez and Brittany Tyra contributed to this story.