Gregg Deal’s exhibition Esoo Tubewade Nummetu (This Land Is Ours) in Colorado Springs doesn’t sugarcoat the historic and contemporary injustices Native people encounter in mainstream American culture and society.
Gregg Deal: Esoo Tubewade Nummetu (This Land Is Ours)
September 15—December 11, 2022
University of Colorado Colorado Springs Galleries of Contemporary Art, Ent Center for the Arts
Gregg Deal (Pyramid Lake Paiute) is a thorn in your side in some of the best and most arresting ways.
Whether it’s cataloging racist comments in a Utah Museum of Contemporary Art group show, or “playing Indian” in performance pieces, the Southern Colorado-based multi-disciplinary artist and disruptor points a stern finger at settler colonialism while illuminating modern Native identity that is almost always misunderstood. A solo exhibition of mostly new works at the UCCS Galleries of Contemporary Art at the Ent Center for the Arts illustrates both the artist’s critical approach to artmaking and his talents across multiple media.
The eye latches onto the large, abstract, multi-paneled acrylic canvas Never Forget (2022); however, smaller paintings command equal attention and time. Five hypnotic works from Deal’s Indigenous Textile Series (2022) feature thick brushstrokes of spackle-like paint in color-study compositions, influenced by textile patterns from Deal’s tribal community and region, while White People Shouldn’t Paint Pictures of Indians in Headdresses (2022), informed by Deal’s punk and street-art ethos, could translate well to wheatpaste.
The stark installation The Space Where Spirits Get Eaten #1 (2022) stacks utilitarian wooden chairs approximately the height of a regulation basketball hoop. Some of the chair legs have been whittled into spearheads; wood detritus hugs the circular edge of an American flag rug. The piece is unsettling and secretes violence, which is what Deal is going for. In this and a companion work, the artist communicates the human-rights injustices of government-created boarding schools, where Indigenous children were snatched from their families and stripped of their everything.
The back room of GOCA includes punk-goth and “traditional” Indigenous fashions (including an outfit, which was entirely made in China, worn in one of Deal’s performance pieces), an audio work, and videos chronicling The Last American Indian on Earth (2015) and The Whites Are Coming/Spectator Sport (2021).
The former video is Deal’s short documentary that shows the artist decked out in threads most people associate with an “Indian.” The artist interacts with everyday people in Washington D.C. (there’s also a brief clip of Deal photobombing Santa Fe newlyweds), who bumble over their words and interactions with Deal, who is shamelessly dehumanized through stereotypes that define ignorance and insanity.
By simply existing as an Indigenous individual—albeit in a China-made headdress—Deal makes people uncomfortable. As he says in The Last American Indian, he is a “social mirror,” which is an apropos description of Deal’s art practice as well as an on-the-nose characterization of the solid, stirring work displayed in Esoo Tubewade Nummetu.