IMAGES Journal for Visual Studies

events: Visual studies today: The power of images


Scott Manning Stevens
Visuality and the Reorientation of Native American Studies

My paper considers the impact of Visual Studies on Native American Studies in relation to W.J.T. Mitchell’s articulation of the pictorial turn. Traditionally, Native American cultures have been examined through a discursive analysis that has privileged the difference between literate and oral cultures. This essentialist binary contains and conceals a variety of concepts, including primitivism and cultural authenticity. I will consider how the dominance of images in contemporary life demands we reconsider past presumptions concerning Native American cultures and how we understand the place of visuality within them, both past and present. To illustrate this I will briefly consider an art installation by Mohawk artist, Alan Michelson, which engages historiography and iconography in a multi-media presentation that asserts the power of the image over the word in both manufacturing and confounding cultural stereotypes. I use this example to illustrate how visuality might be deployed to reorient Native American Studies.