‘It Was Always About Inequality’: Watch Artist Brian Jungen Make Art About Mass Media’s Erroneous Portrayals of Native Peoples

As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

Production still from the Art21
Production still from the Art21 "Extended Play" film, "Brian Jungen: Printing Two Perspectives." © Art21, Inc. 2016.

The artist Brian Jungen is a master of shifting perspectives, and all of his work is rooted in exploring duality, in subtle and sometimes obvious ways.

The artist, who lives and works in North Okanagan, British Columbia, is of Swiss and Dane-zaa ancestry, and he repurposes the detritus of capitalism and mass production to make stirring works that reflect his own Native identity.

Using everything from Nike sneakers to plastic gas canisters and golf bags, Jungen creates sculptures resembling traditional Native objects. He was also inspired to turn to printmaking after seeing the work of Inuit artists in Alaska, and in an exclusive interview with Art21 filmed in 2016, he described how he has used the medium.

Production still from the Art21 "Extended Play" film, "Brian Jungen: Printing Two Perspectives." © Art21, Inc. 2016.

Production still from the Art21 “Extended Play” film, “Brian Jungen: Printing Two Perspectives.” © Art21, Inc. 2016.

After gathering newspaper clippings from an archive at a museum in Calgary, Jungen decided to make works that juxtaposed news stories about Native people and their white counterparts.

One thing I always liked about the imagery that you see in the cultures on the coast is this bilateral symmetry—trying to portray both sides of something on a flat surface,” he told Art21.

Flipping through the old broadsides, Jungen saw stories of Natives that were seemingly always negative, portraying them as poor, living in slums, and causing trouble. Right next to that, advertisements presented smiling white families showing off new purchases, or playing games.

“It was always about inequality, but it wasn’t really from the Native person’s perspective,” Jungen says, noting that if he had seen similar images, “they would’ve made me feel really bad about being Native.” In his reproductions of the newsprints, the stark reality of media’s biased portrayal of Natives is clear.

Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s series Extended Play, below.

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between Artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists. A new series of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship series Art in the Twenty-First Century is available now on PBS. Catch all episodes of other series like New York Close Up and Extended Play and learn about the organization’s educational programs at Art21.org.


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