Native Ceramic Artist Reaches Out For “This is a Stereotype” Film Project

Cannupa's "Stereotype:Misconceptions of the Native American" exhibit at National Museum of American Indians last year. Photo by Debra Yepa-Pappan

Cannupa’s “Stereotype: Misconceptions of the Native American” exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts last year. Photo by Debra Yepa-Pappan

CHICAGO — Growing up Native isn’t always easy, most of the time once people find out you’re Native they immediately pat their hand over their mouths in some nonsensical call or they ask if you live in a teepee. There are many more misconceptions that Native people themselves are still trying to figure out how these stereotypes originated and fighting to put end to them.

For Cannupa Hanska Luger (Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Lakota , an Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) alum, this concept has inspired an art exhibit and a new film project entitled “This is a Stereotype: Initiating Dialogue.” A Kickstarter campaign is underway to help fund this project with a projected release in time for the 2014 Santa Fe Indian Market.

Artist Cannupa Hansuka Luger

Artist Cannupa Hanska Luger. Photo by Anne Staveley

In August 2013, the National Museum of the American Indian hosted Luger’s exhibition “Stereotype:  Misconceptions of the Native American,” which featured ceramic sculptures of various stereos that specifically highlighted preconceived ideas of Natives. For a special event during December, Luger destroyed all but one sculpture by literally letting go of these stereotypes on top of a stone, which later where put on display for the remainder of the exhibition.

“Watching the stereotypes crumble over this little stone that was it. I have to be like that stone; it knows exactly what it is,” says Luger. “You know who you are. Being strong and solid you will find these stereotypes will break right off of you.”

After this demonstration, many professors and scholars encouraged him to give lectures about his artwork at their colleges and universities. This sparked a new deviation of these themes as the event had been recorded by IAIA alum Dylan McLaughlin. Instead of a lecture, what if they could inspire a dialogue within a classroom setting and keep that dialogue evolving? “I am one filter, just one experience,” Luger had to say in reference to his art. “Real change will come through community and people having this discourse.”

This will be Luger’s first documentary that is expected to run for 30-40 minutes and be available as a free digital download. Partnering with Dylan McLaughlin, cinematographer and friend, and Ginger Dunnill, media/PR consultant and wife, the film will address umbrella views of Natives that don’t relate to all Natives through archival footage from over a hundred different tribes during the 1970s. “There’s something really beautiful and honest about those videos,” says Luger about the two hundred home videos that were recorded about the mundane life in Indian Country. Interviews of contemporary Natives and organizations that challenge the typical perspectives of Natives will be juxtaposed along side this footage in the film.

Cannupa Luger has always felt the need to express himself through art. His mother, Kathy Whitman, is an artist and brought him up to appreciate traditional values and ceremonies. Growing up with several brothers, he would rebuild and add on to broken toys, work with metal-smithing, and eventually delve into clay and ceramics.

“Clay is a time old material that had been used worldwide. Clay has both additive and subtractive qualities. And there are elemental aspects of ceramics. You mold it with water. You dry it with air and you set it with fire.”

There is little less than a month for Luger and his partners to reach their goal of raising $10,000 on Kickstarter. If they do achieve their goal, the film will be screened at Santa Fe Indian Market and made available for classrooms this Fall. It is up to all of us to unite and become a solid voice in letting go of Native stereotypes.

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