History of Art and Architecture

Marina Tyquiengco Colloquium

Wednesday, October 11, 2017 - 12:00pm

Room 202, Frick Fine Arts Building

"What Native Looks Like Now: Erica Lord's The Tanning Project"

Since the 1980s, contemporary artists of indigenous backgrounds in the Americas have been harnessing the power of performance and photography to articulate their own identities through their physical bodies. Groundbreaking artists such as Luiseño artist James Luna paved the way for later generations of artists to consider the body and indigeneity in nuanced ways. This paper will address The Tanning Project, a 2005 performance and photographic series by the Alaska-based contemporary indigenous artist Erica Lord that explores issues of identity and indigeneity through the presentation of the artist’s body. Lord is of Athabascan, Inupiaq, Finnish, Swedish and Japanese heritage. In the series, Lord tanned her body while wearing strips of tape spelling out 4 four phrases relating to her mixed indigenous heritage. The ephemerality of the piece is made lasting by the act of photography. This series comments on contemporary Native peoples encountering and confronting stereotypes of Indigenous peoples. Lord has written about this subject in an essay, “America’s Wretched” which I examine in this talk. Through her distinctively multicultural features, she presents Indian or Native identity as a dynamic rather than a static condition. By acting as both as self and other in this series, Lord forces the viewer to confront his or her own assumptions of indigeneity.