Blending pop culture and Native American imagery | WBEZ
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Contemporary artist Bunky Echo-Hawk blends pop culture and Native American imagery

Science-fiction icon Yoda wears a feathered headdress, and a traditionally-dressed Native American rides a horse-sized iPhone.

Contemporary artist Bunky Echo-Hawk combines such pop culture references with Native American imagery to challenge stereotypes and highlight social issues in his community. He is a member of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma and the Yakama Nation of Washington.

The painter, photographer and writer helped curate a new exhibit at The Field Museum that runs through September 2014.

“Bunky Echo-Hawk: Modern Warrior” displays his work alongside several Pawnee artifacts that he helped to pick out of the Field’s collection. He selected both decorative items and everyday objects to show how they can inspire people 100 years later. These items include a “Ghost Dance” dress, a deer-skin drum and a pair of the sneakers he designed for Nike.

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Alaka Wali, the Field Museum’s curator of North American Anthropology, co-curated the exhibition with Echo-Hawk.

“Despite (the Native American peoples’) severe displacement and the very traumatic experiences that they’ve had with Europeans since 1492, why have they been able or how have they been able to be resilient?” Dr. Wali asked.  “To come back and maintain cultural identity despite very severe odds?”

One of the ways Echo-Hawk seeks to keep his culture alive is through live painting, creating a work in front of an audience. He said it’s a modern adaptation of a traditional Native American winter pastime, in which an artist recreates an event by drawing on animal hide, and talks with the people gathered around to get enough information to make an “honest” portrayal.

Echo-Hawk continued that tradition this past Saturday with a few tweaks:  Instead of recreating a “buffalo hunt” or a “great battle,” audience members suggested he illustrate a racial stereotype or a historical or current event on canvas.

“It’s an opportunity to kind of bridge the gap between then and now,” Bunky Echo-Hawk said. “It shows how we once lived and shows how we kind of live now, the things that were changed, the things that were gained and the things that were lost.”

Lee Jian Chung is a WBEZ arts and culture intern. Follow him @jclee89.

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