Gregg Deal, Pyramid Lake Paiute, has been taking his activism and art to the public in a number of ways, including his Last American Indian on Earth performance art and his poster work for Honor the Treaties. In his latest mural, the Washington, DC-based Deal is challenging the public to reconsider what having a team called "Redskins" in the year 2014 really means given the centuries of brutality perpetrated against Native Americans.
At the center of the painting is a well-known portrait of Chief Joseph by Edward S. Curtis; above and below his head is the slogan "American Genocide Reconciled Thru Football."
The words superimposed over Chief Joseph are very powerful — is this an an idea or slogan you came up with in reaction to Dan Snyder's Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation or does it predate that?
The wording is my own to bring about a different perspective about the issue. The conversation about mascots is an important one, but I find that most mainstream media regurgitates the same thing over and over again, often leaving out the important aspects of it. It's media sensationalism, and missing the point of why the issue is relevant. Through art, I can bring in a different perspective in all this. Everything from Mr. Snyder's new foundation to the "honor" argument, everyone forgets the issue expands past the 80 years of the football team, and very vividly illustrates the inept relationship America as a whole has with Indigenous people. Put into context, it's not just a silly name that some Indians are complaining about, but a name, image and idea perpetuated by the history of this country, and the sub-human mindset that is instilled in the psyche of American Culture. American Genocide? Yes. Honor through football? Not so much.
Conceptually this was crafted before the organization. Creating different perspective on the issue is something I've always done — last month I put a white man on display at my opening. He was wearing a team jersey and hat, drinking a beer, eating chips and watching a game. It was a performance piece I came up with to provide perspective. I named it "Traditional Washington Redskin Honor Ceremony." This piece is just one of many I have in my pocket.
Snyder's announcement isn't playing too well, many people are seeing it as the pandering PR stunt it really is — do you think he may have hastened his own demise with it?
I don't think there is any question about why this organization has been built. This organization, the gifts he's given, are about as meaningful in the long term as presidential medals to starving Chiefs or rotted rations during the beginning of the reservation era. I honestly believe that Snyder cares as much for Indigenous people only as far as he can buy them off. But what he's really trying to do is create discourse in Indian Country. Divide and conquer. If he does a little good for a few of the 566 tribes in the US, and Native people criticize the team…well, then we're just hypocrites. But it points to the fact that we are not looked at as 566 sovereign nations, but instead as a group of people in the way that have no more consideration than the ants on the sidewalk that leads up to FedEx Field. We are being bought off. Or, they're trying to buy us off. The beauty of it is that in this case we don't have to point out the obvious. It reeks of desperation.
It's interesting that you've listed 3 of the more popular hashtags for this issue, plus "honor the treaties"… how closely have you been tracking the Twitter action?
I use social media in everything I do in creating interactive elements to the work I do. This is the case with The Last American Indian On Earth, or other street art elements I produce like this one. With the event, and it's placement of this piece, I was keenly aware that this would be a volatile piece in Washington DC. Such works are often documented on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. My artwork (and sometimes my voice) is the contribution I have to the effort of changing the name, and why mascots are damaging to Indigenous people.
I have been tracking the Twitter storms closely, and know many of the key players in it. While I am mildly in the mix, I am keenly aware of what's happening. This type of work serves as something visual to the fight. All of our voices are important, and some kind of cooperation is important.
Honor The Treaties has helped contribute to the material cost. As one of the artists that is a part of the Honor The Treaties crew, I can say that art work (especially street art, graffiti or free sourced work) that contributes to the political, tribal or social aspects of being Indigenous is completely within the bounds of what Honor The Treaties supports. Art activism plays an important roll in any movement, and right now Indigenous people have a lot of movements and issues. This is why Honor The Treaties is important in supporting Indigenous people to make art that contributes to these important causes.
Your Facebook page mentions that this mural is connected to Fine Line Mural Jam — what was that?
Words Beats & Life has partnered with HiArts and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to host and produce in collaboration with The Fridge and Albus Cavus a daylong mural jam featuring the work of up to 75 artists on a 990-foot wall. This is an annual event that is in Northeast DC that invites artists, graffiti writers, and street artists to participate.