The National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC has staged an exhibition about comic art and Native American culture. The exhibit, which started in Santa Fe last year, is titled Comic Art Indigène. Below, "Apache Speedy" (Douglas Miles, San Carlos Apache/Akimel O'Odham, 2003). See more images by hitting reload at the Santa Fe Museum of Indian Arts & Culture Web site. From the exhibition description at the National Museum of the American Indian:
Under the larger definition of narrative art, comic art is more related to Native American art traditions than one might expect. The earliest surviving example of such narrative art is rock art. The historic examples used in the exhibition, such as photographs of rock art, ledger art, and ceramics, are meant to link Native American art traditions with contemporary voices.
Making comics and producing art inspired by them is a method of reclaiming the narrative art form of comics and Native American culture from those who would dismiss an art for the masses. Stories of humor, adventure and the fantastic depicted through pictures have always been an indigenous practice, and Native American scribes today grapple with the same topics emboldened with millennia-old cultural traditions, blended with new methods of expression and life in the 21st Century.
The current issue of Smithsonian Magazines features an interview with one of the artists featured in the exhibition, Jolene Nenibah Yazzie. She is a graphic designer at a newspaper but also illustrates her own comics based on Navajo female warriors, and has also started a skateboard brand, Asdzaan ("Women") Skateboards. From Smithsonian:
What fascinated you about the superheroes you saw in comics growing up?
When I was in first grade, every Friday we would have an elderly person come in to tell us our Navajo creation stories. They would really get into character. The superheroes kind of had the same stories, so I think that's what really connected me to it.
So do you see your comic art as a natural outgrowth of more traditional storytelling?
I wouldn't necessarily say traditional. Since there are already the creation stories, I kind of wanted to build my own characters. Most of the women characters I built have to do with my mother and my sister. They are based on them.