“I would like individuals to both love my artwork or hate it, I don’t need them to be complacent.” It’s not that Gregg Deal is attempting to be controversial—he desires individuals to suppose, and in his opinion, that’s more and more uncommon nowadays.
Deal, 45, lives simply east of Colorado Springs along with his spouse and 5 youngsters. He’s an artist, an activist, and a member of the Pyramid Lake Paiute tribe. “I’m an expert disrupter,” Deal says, that means he desires to forestall issues—programs, establishments, methods of pondering—from persevering with as typical.
Deal’s drive to create has been with him since he was a toddler rising up in Park Metropolis, Utah. “I used to do graffiti in my free time, earlier than and after college,” he says. His love of artwork led him to George Mason College, the place he studied portray, graphic design, and filmmaking. 5 years in the past, he moved from Washington D.C. to Colorado for an artist residency on the Denver Artwork Museum. He’s been coloring the state along with his work ever since.
Whereas Deal considers himself to be primarily a painter—he lately completed a mural behind the Boulder Theater, as a part of the Avenue Sensible Boulder Mural Competition—he’s maybe finest recognized for his efficiency work, which tackles stereotypes, conceptions, and misconceptions about Native individuals. Deal says most Individuals don’t know the names of Native leaders, and even the names of the tribes who inhabited the land they now stay on. “There are over 570 tribes in the US which might be federally acknowledged, and much more that aren’t acknowledged,” Deal says. There are additionally over 300 languages, and wildly various cultures and customs amongst these tribes. Deal’s artwork is the depiction of Native individuals and life as a Native particular person—not knowledgeable by what Western tradition thinks Native artwork ought to seem like.
Lately, as a part of his set up “Fashionable Indigenous Dwelling” on the Artwork Scholar League of Denver, Deal minimize off his lengthy braids in entrance of an viewers of about 35 individuals with Black Flag’s “Nervous Breakdown” enjoying. The efficiency had a twin objective. First, it referenced boarding colleges, which began in the US in 1879 as locations of pressured assimilation for Native individuals, the place they have been made to chop their hair and abandon their tribes’ traditions. Deal’s efficiency additionally spoke to the idea of worth—of becoming into (or not becoming into) a prescribed model of what a Native particular person seems to be like. And for Deal, the efficiency was additionally private. “The chopping of the hair additionally, for me, symbolized letting some issues go as I transfer onto my subsequent tasks,” he says.
“Fashionable Indigenous Dwelling” has a number of items of social commentary hooked up to it. “I first got here up with the idea in 2014, after which I had the chance to place it collectively in 2016 after I was approached by the Smithsonian,” Deal says. The unique model of the piece concerned a tipi stuffed with IKEA furnishings—gadgets so commonplace in Western tradition. Deal needed to make stark the disconnect that many Individuals have with Indigenous individuals residing the identical sorts of lives as everybody else within the U.S. However quickly, Deal’s undertaking was stalled. “We have been shifting ahead with the undertaking when the higher echelon on the Smithsonian principally censored the work,” Deal says. He adjusted the piece into one thing that match what the Smithsonian was in search of, however Deal says this was one other instance of how others dictate what being Native means, and what Indigenous artwork ought to be.
Ama Mills-Robertson, then program director on the Artwork College students League of Denver, heard Deal inform this story when he was a visiting artist and trainer. The League spent two years elevating the funding for him to place collectively this work the best way he initially supposed. The set up—a tipi coated in graffiti, all accomplished by Indigenous artists, and stuffed with all types of artifacts—is presently on show on the Artwork Scholar League of Denver campus within the Speer neighborhood, and is accessible on the weekends till October 31.
Deal says it’s nice to lastly see the undertaking come to fruition. “It’s a bit overwhelming to have the ability to do it after so lengthy,” he says. “It’s onerous too, as a result of it’s within the midst of COVID-19, and so adjustments have been made involving how many individuals can observe and take part without delay. However everybody has been incredible in making it occur.”
Subsequent, Deal is engaged on a music-themed spoken-word efficiency piece known as “The Punk Pan-Indian Romantic Comedy.” Deal says it’s a nod towards Native futurism, id, stereotypes, and social points, and is being created by means of a grant from Arts in Society. It is going to be accomplished in June 2021.
Whether or not it’s a efficiency work, a mural, or a bit of spoken-word, Deal hopes to be a relentless reminder that Indigenous individuals have been on the land generally known as the US lengthy earlier than Europeans, they usually’re nonetheless right here, and most significantly, that they matter—they’ve worth.