Month: June 2002

100 Years of Baseball and Indians

The American Museum of Natural History in NYC is hosting dueling exhibitions: upstairs is “Baseball is America”, an exhibit celebrating 100 years of baseball curated by The Baseball Hall of Fame; and downstairs is “Baseball and Playing Indian” a social commentary on mascot stereotypes by Native artists Richard Blue Cloud Castaneda and Charlene Teters

Richard Blue Cloud Castaneda has made the trip from student art contest blue-ribbon-winner at the recent AIHEC (American Indian Higher Education Conference) in Rapid City, South Dakota, to major exhibition in New York City look like a quick trip to town. A second year student at IAIA (The Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe), Castaneda’s talent was quickly recognized and rewarded with a commission to shoot images for Charlene Teters’ new installation at the American Museum of Natural History where she is an Artist-in-Residence.

Castaneda (Pima/Maricopa from Salt River Reservation) is a photographer, and his image of friends dancing “On the Road to Taos” (pictured at right) captured first place in the art competition at the recent AIHEC Conference in Rapid City, South Dakota, and has captured people’s attention all over the map. “I had so many requests for that image that I can’t keep up with the demand,” he said in an interview with The Native Voice as he made final touches to the mural-sized photos he was preparing for the “Baseball and Playing Indian” exhibit, adding that he had been working “nonstop” to fulfill Teters’ request for his work. “Char Teters approached me about doing the photos, and she said, `What I’m looking for is someone to shoot Native people in their normal attire … and get a feeling that they are human.’ I tried a couple of different things, shot a lot of film, and at the last minute I decided to focus on the eyes, to have people tell their truths through their eyes.”

Castaneda and Teters share a common goal: to empower Native people by making them more visible in the world and in the media as real people; and to educate the non-Indian public about the issues by exposing them to the negative power and unreality of sterotypes. “The view of Native Americans is very stereotyped. And I feel like I was literally brought here to take on that issue,” said Castaneda. Teters (Spokane Tribe) is well known for her work to end the use of Indian stereotypes, and has created a large body of work around these issues. She said, “I asked Richard to participate in this [art installation] because his images are not romanitisized. They are truly images of the kind of Indian people that we are today. It’s not staged, it’s real people. And they are so beautifully done, those photos, and they are the whole range of who we are as human beings. …. Richard is able to do such a great job at really capturing what it is to be a Native American right now, at the beginning of the 21st Century.”

The approach works, as viewers are confronted with dead-on eye contact with the subjects. There is no shyness here, there are no bowed heads. There is no doubting the aliveness of these Indians, the reality of their images, or the feeling that they will ask the passing New Yorker, “Who do you believe now? Us? Or the people upstairs?”

Charlene Teters’ installation featuring Richard Blue Cloud Castaneda’s photography opened at the National Museum of Natural History in New York City on Wednesday, May 22nd and will be on exhibit until June 1st. For more information go to http://www.amnh.org/programs/teters.

For more on Charlene Teters’ work, see The Women’s Voice section (B1), and for the full interview with Richard Casteneda featuring photos from the Museum of Natural History exhibit, visit The Voice of the Youth section (B4).

The photographs on this page are actually mural sized, and are currently hanging in an exhibition at The American Museum of Natural History in New York City entitled “We are Human, We are Human,” which runs until June 1st. It is part of a larger installation, “Baseball and Playing Indian,” a powerful visual commentary on Indian stereotypes. Richard is Pima/Maricopa from Salt River Indian Reservation.

TNV:

So you went from “GO” to having an exhibition at the National Museum of Natural History in New York within a year.

Richard BC Castaneda:

Yeah.

TNV:

That’s amazing. Quite an achievement. Clearly this is something natural for you.

Richard BC Castaneda:

Yeah, and the opportunities have opened up. It’s unbelievable. And I keep getting pushed, and I go, “I can do that.” And I’m on my way to San Francisco to see my kid…but I really feel like I’m now owning myself enough to be proud around him. I’ve stuck to my dream, and I’m living it. It’s been really healing.

TNV:

What happened to take you there?

Richard BC Castaneda:

When my son was born, everything changed the most. When I looked at him, I felt really empty. He was looking into my eyes one day when he was about 3 months old and I began to feel like I didn’t have anything to offer him. I got really afraid. I couldn’t ask him to follow his dreams if I hadn’t followed my dreams. And that was when I began to think about what had ever happened to my kid dreams — did I want to be a fireman, policeman, … you know. I found that I was always into art and people were telling me that I should go to school. I had met a guy who had gone to IAIA (the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, NM), so I decided that I wanted to go there, too. I went there to paint, but I ended up taking photography because I always wanted to shoot pictures. I always composed photos in my head, but I had never had access to any of the equipment or training. I took a lot of pictures with the old 110 cameras, but that didn’t quite cut it.

TNV:

So how has going to school changed your situation?

Richard BC Castaneda:

It’s so cool to be at the Institute…there’s like 80 different tribes represented there. I’ve gotten so many opportunities – I’ve been challenged to my core. [Photography] is more natural than anything I’ve done in my entire life. It feels like I’ve been doing it forever, but I just started it last semester. So I’ve been taking pictures for about a year – the class taught me the technical aspects of taking pictures. I had taken pictures before but they had never come out the way I wanted them to.

TNV:

So, you’ve only been doing this work for about a year?

Richard BC Castaneda:

Yeah. Literally after my second shoot my work started getting attention. I am really into shooting and I don’t mind getting dirty – I move around a lot. If I see something I will ask the person to let me shoot them.

TNV:

So tell us about the exhibit in New York.

Richard BC Castaneda:

The view of Native Americans is very stereotyped. And I feel like literally I was brought here to taken on that issue. Everything happens far a reason, and I believe I went through all the things I went through were for a reason. My photography has become sort of a weapon, a tool. I’m tired that there are a lot of natives that are not getting attention that need to be. They’re not getting attention because they’re not wearing the buckskin, they’re not wearing the feathers, they’re not making traditional art.

Char Teters came to me and asked if I would work with her on this project she’s been working on – and it’s called “Baseball and Playing Indian” and her goal right now is to beat the stereotypes. At the Museum of Natural History right now they have an exhibition “100 Years of Baseball” and she got invited to have an exhibit there doing the opposite – showing Native people as human beings. She said, “What I’m looking for is someone to shoot Native people in their normal attire and get a feeling that they are human.” Me and my friends would just hang out in my studio (in Santa Fe) and talk and take pictures. I was trying to capture…that we are very confident in who we are.

What I really wanted to do was capture their eyes. They tell a lot of stories. They are looking at you, at the camera. I was asking them to identify themselves to me, and they did. It really worked. What I wanted to do for the piece was to expose this to the public. I am really happy with the work. There are a total of six photographs – mural size 30′ x 40′. I just found out today that the people at the Museum were so happy with the work that they have encouraged Char to set them up as an exhibit on their own, and she’s called it “Human Being Human Being.”

TNV:

That’s so cool. Any final thoughts?

Richard BC Castaneda:

I would encourage anybody to embrace their spirit, their passion. I think that’s how I got those shots – because I literally felt passionate about it. That’s what really made it easy…because it’s natural. When you embrace yourself, it’s like being 100%. It’s being authentic. I feel like this is an awesome opportunity, to share that passion that’s been in there forever – so long that I forgot it was in there. I feel like I’ve just been born.

Photograph (Photo, “I Am Human”)

Advertisements