2005 Indian Boyz and War Chief
Photography, Mixed technique, Photographic paper, 40 x 60 cm, 2005
The portrait "War Chief" inquires into the nature of the colonial gaze and how one's mind might resist those internal and external processes that seek to archetype our beings into caricatures of our actual humanity.
The seminal idea behind this work came from a desire to contest the famous photographic series commissioned in 1906 by American Tycoon J.P. Morgan. Morgan wanted photographer Edward S. Curtis to capture images of the "vanishing race" of Native Americans. Often times these images were staged and reflected eurocentric ideas of the natives and the "exotic other". The colonial gaze consumes cultures and beings turning them into that which can be objectified, possessed and dominated.
The compositional elements of "War Chief" were inspired by a scene in the film "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". The image itself never appears in the film but is taken from the point of view of McMurphy, the protagonist, from a scene in the film. The film itself is based on a book Ken Kesey and is an inquiry into the human mind and it's attempts to resist the colonial and institutional processes that work continuously to condition and dominate our cognitive and cultural functions.
"One flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" relates a story where Chief Bromden and McMurphy are patients in a psychiatric ward and McMurphy approaches the Chief to help McMurphy free his fellow inmates from the ward. The person in the photograph is "Chief Bromden" and in it the Chief returns the camera's gaze with a sense skeptical and unforgiving presence. The Chief resists becoming an exotic object and in doing so he and the viewer become equals in the relationship.
In the story, McMurphy and the Chief become friends; however, for his efforts to resist the system, McMurphy is lobotomized by the institution. This vengeful act brings the Chief to draw on his own psychic, emotional and physical strength to free himself from the institutional prison.
While the original image was conceived and composed in 2004, given its nature and the recent emergence of Idle No More movement in Canada, with permission from my subject and creative collaborator, it seemed a good time to bring the image into the public sphere.
Indian Boyz was the larger collaboration where War Chief emerged as a final image. The Indian Boyz series was part of ongoing and somewhat playful collaboration between Adrian Stimson and myself. This collaboration included a cross Canada panel entitled "Define Indian" that explored the relationship between Aboriginal "Indians" and South Asian "Indians" named in the story of colonialism. Adrian Stimson is Blackfoot from Alberta, Canada and I am of Dravidian anscetry originating from Tamil Naidu, southern India.
The images from the Indian Boyz photoshoot contextualize War Chief and offer an alternative open ended interpretation to the narrative that appears in the film "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."