An Unquiet Indian: 10 Years of Decks, Guns and Geronimo With Douglas Miles
Douglas Miles, the founder of Apache Skateboards from the San Carlos reservation in Arizona, didn’t set out to be a professional artist. In fact, he started in social work.
“I’ve been making art ever since I can remember,” he says — around 25 years. But professionally, he spent his first 10 or 15 years in the social field.
Living in a place with poverty and unemployment, he realized he could combine his passions. “I began to look for ways to impact the community with my art,” he says. “To sort of build a community with art. With images that would create a kind of, I guess, pride.”
Melding the two paths wasn’t easy. Miles held a full-time job while traveling and selling his artwork. "That’s really key," he says. "I think it’s important for young artists to know that. I know it’s not romantic and everything, but that’s the truth."
In 2002, Miles started Apache Skateboards, decorating his decks with young Apache warriors. A while later he appeared on a panel with Wayne Rainey from the monOrchid Gallery in Phoenix. They reconnected last year, and Rainey suggested doing a retrospective of his art.
"I kind of thought it would be nice to talk about the work of Apache Skateboards," says Miles. "It’s kind of become its own thing. Even online, people know me as Apache Skateboards."
"I wanted to talk more about the work, and all the things we do, under that umbrella." Thus "APACHE X: 10 Years of Douglas Miles & Apache Skateboards," a show that ran during the month of March, was born.
The retrospective label isn’t entirely accurate because the show is 50-60% new. The gallery called it a retrospective so Miles could include older pieces while featuring his latest work.
The reactions have been positive, says Miles. The people who supported Apache Skateboards at the beginning continue to support it. Only one criticism has been a constant. “I like the art, they’ll say, but I don’t like the gun imagery. It kind of throws people off.”
He doesn’t apologize for that, and people aren’t saying it as much anymore. They got used to it, he explains, or they see “it’s part of the story.” That is, the story of Apache Skateboards, American history, and the history of the Apache people. “It’s not something that I’m trying to sugar-coat or whitewash.”
Miles is grateful to the monOrchid Gallery because he hasn’t had a gallery show in a while. Even Native American galleries haven’t hosted a show of his work recently.
Is it because his art is still too challenging for mainstream galleries? Could be, he says.
“America likes its Indians quiet. America likes its Indians docile, and noble. They like to look at Indians through what I call the pristine lens of the past. Pristine meaning clean and pure. So they don’t really have to look at what they did.”
But Miles isn’t going away, so the fine-art world will have to deal with artists like him. “I think they will become more accepting over time,” he says, “because they don’t have a choice. Their job is to talk about work that’s relevant. And that speaks to a unique experience.”
That means Indians like Miles who are at the forefront of fighting ignorance and apathy. Whether it’s with guns, words and images, or skateboards.
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