by Sascha T. Scott. University of Oklahoma Press, February 2015. 280 p. ill. ISBN 9780806144849 (cl.), $45.00.
Reviewed September 2015
Heather Kline, Outreach & Collections Specialist, Bunting Visual Resources Library, University of New Mexico, email@example.com
The expression of indigenous ceremonial performance in art both facilitated and complicated the relationship between the Pueblos of New Mexico and the early twentieth century Anglo community, a complex subject tackled with great expertise by Sascha T. Scott in A Strange Mixture. Scott is an assistant professor of art history at Syracuse University, as well as a member of the Native American Studies faculty. She describes her research as focusing on indigenous art and politics and the ethics of indigenous art research.
Scott's writing is both scholarly and engaging. This book is physically impressive, with thick glossy pages and sturdy binding. The illustrations are numerous and of very high quality, representing both paintings in their entirety and detail views. There are also extensive notes, as well as a thorough bibliography and index.
The most successful chapters of the book discuss E.L. Blumenschein's ambivalent relationship between the Taos Society of Artist, the Pueblos, and the tenets of modernism, as well as Awa Tsireh's art of resistance. Other chapters address Marsden Hartley, John Sloan, and Georgia O'Keeffe in the context of their responses to Pueblo ceremony. The first chapter considers Blumenschein's painting of San Geronimo's Feast Day. Blumenschein is presented as a (self-imposed) interlocutor between Anglo and indigenous culture in New Mexico. Chapter three returns back to Blumenschein and the painting "The Gift," a narratively ambiguous study of gazing Pueblo figures that requires a great deal of unwrapping.
Scott looks at how San Ildefonso artist Awa Tsireh achieved a melding of traditional Pueblo and modernist painting that combines static and dynamic abstract forms. This is perhaps the most carefully structured chapter, broken up into discussions of Tsireh's (as well as other Pueblo artists navigating artistic exchange with Anglo audiences) resistance in the forms of silence, misdirection, coding, and masking. The end of this chapter also introduces important points about the continued colonial struggle in the Pueblos and how cultural institutions, such as museums, remain implicit by holding onto controversial objects such as photographs of rituals. Scott also talks about her own experience consulting directly with the Pueblos on this chapter, positioning herself as part of this lineage of artistic exchange and pointing a way forward that transcends appropriation.
The themes addressed in this book have been touched upon by other researchers, but Scott integrates ideas of cultural interaction in a way that sheds new light on the complexity of this exchange. It is an academic discussion appropriate to scholars who wish to delve deeper into these issues, whether museum professionals or university researchers.