'Stereotype: The Stefani,' a ceramic sculpture by Cannupa Hanska Luger

A Portrait of Gwen Stefani as a Boom Box: Sly Ceramic Stereotypes

Dominique Godreche
September 20, 2013

Cannupa Hanska Luger, a 34-year-old Lakota conceptual artist born in North Dakota and based in California, has inherited much from his Cheyenne Lakota cowboy father and artist mother. Not just his creative skills, but also a strong sense of humor: His show, "Stereotype: Misconceptions of the Native American," which opened at the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts of Santa Fe around Indian Market and runs through December 31, expresses a vision of  Native American youth today, through ironic representations of iconic traditional objects, and their relation to  contemporary reality. Luger spoke with ICTMN about his sly and subversive sculptures, which make reference to such cultural appropriators as Gwen Stefani and Drew Barrymore, as well as the legendary and controversial photographer Edward S. Curtis.

"Stereotype" consists of ceramic sculptures of boom boxes -- have you always worked in that medium?

I was first a self-taught painter, and I studied ceramics at the institute of American Indian arts of Santa Fe, and fell in love with it immediately.

You have these stereos, which you've dressed up in feathers and other stereotypical "Indian" accessories -- it's a real mismatch. What's going on here?

Growing up on a ranch, I used to paint live hip hop shows, and that was a great way to identify with our popular culture versus Native culture. In this country, everybody has been raised with cartoons, MTV -- all that has been part of my upbringing, and that is why I want to represent it. Even if, at the end of the day, I am a Native artist. But I want to show where we are today, instead of a romanticized past. There is a real misconception about Native Americans -- I built ceramic stereos with the iconic stereotypes of Natives, because our population is so broad, as the variety of Native cultures. So the umbrella term "Native" does not reflect us; we, as people, are not defined by it.

So you do not advertise yourself as a Native artist?

Instead of claiming my Native identity, I own it. I present myself as an artist, and do not have to say "Native," which feeds into the system of marginalization.  The "Native" art scene was not originally created by us. We had our style, of course, but even then, they're all different according to the regions -- east, north, etc.

Your boom boxes are types of stereos -- they're also stereotypes, symbols of wrong information about Native people...

Totally! The stereos are ghetto blasters from urban areas, they come from blasting your music. There are multiple layers, deep reasons, for those boom boxes. Including the nostalgic aspect, which is cross-generational: The first generation of radios, remember, were wooden. And when the show is over in December, I will destroy all the pieces during a performance with Native students. I will not leave them in this context, because the whole purpose is to make them  disappear. Selling them would mean reinforcing stereotypes!

To learn more about Cannupa Hanska Luger, visit his official site or his Facebook page.