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October 12, 2010

James Luna: Take a Picture with a Real Indian

Video clips give a sense of James Luna’s "Take a Picture of a Real Indian," but the photographs of the people who accept his invitation are integral to the work. Yesterday's performance is one of the rare times Luna has presented the piece outside a museum, and the setting was inspired. The Columbus memorial, a park-like traffic circle adjacent to the Capitol grounds, provided a second ring of audience-participants snapping photographs from taxis and tour buses. And by collapsing the 150 feet between the Columbus fountain and the monumental train station in the background, the camera revealed Washington's secret wish to dress in colonial baroque. 

Luna 10102010

James Luna and Jane Chun

From this New-Spain-on-the-Potomac we’re close enough to make the leap to Luna’s installation “Chapel for Pablo Tac,” on exhibit at the museum in Vantage Point. Tac was born in 1822 at Alta California's Mission San Luis Rey de Francia. (The mission is the source of the European name Luiseño for Tac's—and Luna's—Puyukitchum people.) Tac left the New World as a child to study for the Catholic priesthood. Weakened by smallpox, he died in Rome in 1841. During his short life, he wrote an essay on the conversion of the Luiseño, and a longer account of Native life at San Luis Rey, with a grammar and the beginnings of a dictionary of the Luiseño language.


"Chapel for Pablo Tac," 2005 Venice Biennale

In Emendatio, the museum’s book of essays on Luna’s art, both NMAI curator Paul Chaat Smith and Lisbeth Haas, professor of history at the University of California, Santa Cruz, write of memory and remembering as keys to Luna’s work. A theme of knowing and not knowing recurs as well. On a textile in front of the altar to Pablo Tac, Luna has stitched Tac’s words: “I could have taught more, but who could teach others what they don’t know? What I knew, I taught. What I didn’t know, I’ve left. Better to be silent that saying lies.” In brief remarks before each segment of “Take a Picture,” Luna notes that, “America doesn’t know us.” Non-Natives prefer Indians of the imagination, who make not only vivid names for consumer products and weapons systems, but also the best photo souvenirs.

Luna’s performance is one of a series of interactions with Vantage Point artists the museum is hosting. This blog will catch up on workshops presented by Marie Watt and Truman Lowe during the exhibition’s opening. I was going to wheedle your attendance at events planned roughly every month from January through July 2011 by pointing out that they provide you a chance to see artists’ minds at work. But many of you may well be artists—I shouldn't imagine to know. So let me say instead that they offer an opportunity for people to learn something of each other. Apropos of that, you can read participant Adair Hill’s take on yesterday’s event at http://www.theadairreview.com/2010/10/take-picture-with-real-indian-by-james.html



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Nice one

haha .. nice idea .. i will take a picture with an indian soon ! :)

inspiring picture.

Luiseño Language? Which country it is actually belongs with?

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