Man Crush Monday: The Audacious Genius Art of Steve Judd, Kiowa Love Machine
QUICK RANT ABOUT MAN CRUSH MONDAYS: I’ve had a few people (not a ton, but definitely some) contact about these Man Crush Mondays, telling me how weird/funny it is. They joke, “Oh I guess you’re going THAT way, huh?” We all know what they mean.
Here’s the thing—honestly, I don’t care if people think that I’m weird or homosexual or off my rocker for saying that I have a man crush on these dudes. Those words are not insults to me. Still, I think that this goes a little deeper than close-mindedness or homophobia. It goes to the heart of why it’s so much easier to tear other Native people down than to build each other up; we’re trained to be suspicious of each other.
See, white supremacy has affected ALL people of color to a large degree and convinced many Native people that we should always be in conflict with each other. We were TRAINED that way—divide and conquer. There are many of us who cannot fathom Native men simply complimenting and admiring another Native man and wanting to help his career. They’ve bought the lie: they’re supposed to dislike each other. If someone were to write an article alleging that some tribal leader was acting unscrupulously or that Sherman Alexie doesn’t work with other Natives or how Steve Judd scandalously chews on his toenails, people wouldn’t think anything of it: they’re supposed to dislike each other. On the other hand, it’s just weird when a Native man publicly shows admiration and affection to another Native man.
When we write something that says, “I love this dude. He’s brilliant, handsome and talented,” then it’s “weird” and we question where it comes from.
Well I’ll tell you: it comes from a place of love. I love Native people. I love to see Native people doing well. I love it when a WHOLE BUNCH of Natives do well and show the general brilliance of Natives who show that “No, it’s not just a couple of exceptional Natives who do amazing stuff. They’re not 'exceptional'—they’re not different from other Natives.” I will continue to utilize my little platform to highlight everyday brilliant and creative Natives (and most of us are, even if we don’t choose to utilize that brilliance and creativity!) and I sincerely hope that other Natives will likewise act “weird” and show love to their brothers and sisters.
I have a serious crush—homoerotic, heteroerotic, art-erotic, whatever you wanna call it—on every single one of these men (and women!) that I’m highlighting. I’m hopeful that you will too after you read ALL of the MANY reasons why.
Now Judd. Since this is the last Man Crush Monday for awhile, I figured it would be appropriate to end with Steve.
Sigh. What can I say about Judd?
How about this: When all is said and done, Judd will be remembered as ONE of the MOST important Natives of the 21st century. He will do much to positively affect Native people’s self-esteem. Huge statement, but I truly believe it. I’ll tell you why. Soon.
RELATED: Steven Judd, Renaissance Native
First, I first met Judd almost 20 years ago at Haskell Indian Nations University, then called “Haskell Junior College.” He bowled with a team of rowdy Kiowas (yes, we had bowling nights at Haskell) and their team name was the “Kiowa Love Machines.” He had a limp, always had a smile on his face, and was the Kiowa kid (other than Mike Primus and Roger Stickler) that I got along with best.
Nice kid. Good looking, goofy, yet nice. Always had a smile on his face. I didn’t know that there was an artistic genius developing on the inside.
Fast forward 18 years. Judd is still the goofy, good looking Kiowa kid with the ever-present smile on his face. He doesn’t have a limp anymore, and my guess is that he hung up the bowling career years ago. Thank God.
What’s replaced the bowling instead is a one man factory of pop art ideas that are constantly new and constantly provocative. They’re fun. I mean, no disrespect to Steve, but his art is not “high brow”—it’s meant for everyday chumps, like me, to enjoy and contemplate!
Now just because it’s not high-brow DOES NOT mean that it’s not important. Judd’s art is critically important. The reason that it’s so important is primarily because of its accessibility; that is, it allows young kids (and the young at heart) to appreciate his art, these HEALTHY AND POSITIVE IMAGES OF NATIVE PEOPLE. Like “Siouxperman” or “Siouxperwoman.” Or how about “Powwow Rangers?”
That is, instead of going the route that many seem to be infatuated with nowadays—constantly protesting and whining about the mainstream imagery of Native people (and thereby reaffirming the white supremacist power structure that makes Natives the objects that react to the white/male/patriarchal subject), Judd goes in the complete opposite direction! He creates HIS OWN positive and healthy Native images. Imagine that—Native people can actually create our own healthy (or unhealthy!) images instead of simply crying about what non-Natives give us.
That’s powerful, my friends. That’s self-determination. That is the power to influence generations of Native people. Instead of angrily protesting popular images of Natives, he’s consistently showing the many ways Native life is beautiful. With that same goofy smile on his face.
Like everyone else that I’ve covered in these Man Crush Mondays—Martin Sensmeier, Wab Kinew, Nick Galanin/Silver Jackson—I look up to Judd because I think that he wants to make the world a better place. Are they perfect? Not at all. None of us are.
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