Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2018

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

First Advisor

Annette de Stecher

Second Advisor

James Cordova

Third Advisor

Robert Nauman

Abstract

Stereotypes of Indigenous peoples, formed according to Western notions of cultural hierarchy, as savage, exotic, and only existing in a distant past, are still prevalent in the popular imaginary. These stem from misunderstandings and misrepresentations of Indigenous peoples that developed after contact between Indigenous peoples and European settler communities, and exist in concepts such as the noble savage, the wild heathen, or the vanishing Indian. In this thesis I argue that contemporary artist Gregg Deal (Pyramid Lake Paiute) successfully challenges and disrupts such stereotypes by re-channeling their power and reappropriating them through his strategic use of humor and irony in performances, paintings, and murals. Through these tools, Deal is able to attract audiences, disarm them, and destabilize their assumptions about Indigenous peoples. I frame Deal’s use of humor and irony outside the trickster paradigm, drawing instead on Don Kelly’s (Ojibway) theorization of humor as a communicative tool for making difficult topics accessible, and Linda Hutcheon’s theorization of irony as a discursive strategy for simultaneously presenting and subverting something that is familiar.

In a second line of argument, I foreground Deal’s agency as an artist through analysis of his strategies to reach audiences and gain visibility for his art. Contemporary Indigenous artists are often excluded from mainstream art institutions, and can struggle to find venues to exhibit their work. I argue that Deal’s strategic use of public space and the internet to show and publicize his art is significant. It has helped him to reach audiences and gain recognition for his work. He now exhibits and performs in university and state museums. I argue that the authority of museum space, in turn, gives him a greater opportunity to disrupt stereotypes and educate people about misperceptions of Indigenous peoples.

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