by Jessica L. Horton. Duke University Press, May 2017. 312 p. ill. ISBN 9780822369813 (pbk), $26.95.
Reviewed September 2017
In her first book, Art for an Undivided Earth, Jessica L. Horton seeks to complicate the official art historical narrative of the West, showing the entanglement of western societies with those of Native Americans. An assistant professor of Native American, modern, and contemporary art at the University of Delaware, Horton received grants for this book from the Wyeth Foundation for American Art Publication Fund and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
The book initially positions five artists in a specific time period by explaining the concerns of the American Indian Movement (AIM), a militant civil rights group founded in 1968. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the fierce nationalism of AIM led to its attempt to reclaim land taken from Native Americans during colonization and to occupy sites of significance to indigenous peoples: Alcatraz Island, the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C., and Wounded Knee in South Dakota. Rather than arguing that the artists of the AIM generation constituted a cohesive movement, Horton suggests that, in the words of Robert Houle, AIM “...provided a way to frame our resistance. It gave us a language to use in our struggle for equity…”
Horton foregrounds the agency of the artists she examines, focusing not on how indigenous peoples were subjugated but instead on the reciprocal exchanges that occurred between Europe and America, arguing that the artists were laying claim to their own territory in art history. Using Jimmie Durham, James Luna, Fred Kabotie, Kay WalkingStick, and Robert Houle as case studies, Horton explores the notion that, rather than primarily dealing with issues of identity, Native American artists of the AIM generation were striving to connect the earth both geographically and across time by demonstrating the interconnected nature of Europe and her colonies.
To support her argument, Horton effectively uses as evidence works performed, installed, or made abroad. Somewhat more tenuous is the relationship of AIM to these artworks, although the organization is useful for explaining the artists’ mindsets and providing context for the works.
The book is well-illustrated, with color plates focusing on the main artworks discussed. The author has clearly done extensive research, in some cases communicating with the artists themselves, and compiled a very thorough bibliography. The index to the book is also thoughtful, providing nuances for broad topics.
In all, this book is a worthwhile read. Given the density of the information presented, it is recommended for academic libraries serving those researching contemporary Native American artists, likely at a graduate level. It is particularly relevant for institutions with an emphasis on the agency of minority artists, but might prove overwhelming for readers with only a passing interest in the topic.