By Barry Ace
Douglas Miles is an Akimel O’odham /Apache artist living on the San Carlos reservation in eastern Arizona. Melding a graphic-cum-graffiti sensibility, Miles’s timely cultural aesthetic captures the spontaneity of urbanity, much like the esoteric works of Jean Michel Basquiat, whose New York City poetic street tags under his pseudonym (SAMO) and Haitian-inspired iconography broke new ground in the contemporary art scene of the 1980s. Miles’s work can be compared also to the profundity of England’s Bansky, whose recent strategically-placed international tagging interventions heighten our collective contemporary consciousness through satirical, political and social commentaries on war, poverty, violence and modernity. Miles completes this trinity of street-inspired artists by confronting us with his own savvy, hard-ass and hard-hitting cultural stance that is not only unconventional—challenging, unsettling and raw in its positioning—but also seductive and visually luring through his reuse and re-contextualization of Native American subject matter and historical imagery.
Purporting revolution and chaos as a theoretical premise, Miles’s art is not deliberately about marketing, branding, or commercialism, nor is it about high art versus low art (a now defunct and old-school debate of the 1990s), but instead, Miles’s work can be seen as a series of fresh and focused artistic interventions and strategies on the very products and ephemera of popular culture itself. A heroic historical image of Apache leader Geronimo on a skateboard or stenciled political/warrior narrative Apachelypse Now (2008) confronts the viewer, garnering a deeper personal introspection on representation and place. These re/presentations of historical imagery are about presenting a living, vibrant and contemporary culture that is not dead or dying, but instead constantly changing, transforming and reinventing itself in as much as Western culture or any other culture for that matter. The work challenges the notion of marginalization by reversing the center; indigenizing or “counting coup” on the popular cultural icons of Western culture. This strategy of intervention for Native American youth entails overwriting Western popular culture and materialization.
Miles’s approach codifies Native American presences in mainstream culture by creating an aesthetic sensibility through skateboard culture, thus strengthening and instilling cultural pride and tribal consciousness. Apache Skateboards is a moniker created by Miles to further his artistic investigations and expand his collective philosophy of outreach by providing the impetus for collaborations with other young and talented creators interested in skateboard culture and integrated as Apache Skateboard Native Agents Team. Miles’s collaboration has expanded his outreach into a multiplicity of genres including film, still photography, public murals, digital works, skate-park design, shoes, clothing and conference and speaking engagements. Apache Skateboards is documented in the recent film co-directed by Douglas Miles and Franck Boistal Walk Like a Warrior: The Apache Skateboards Story (2008).
In 2009, the Smithsonian at the George Gustav Heye Center in New York City presented Ramp It Up: Skateboard Culture in Native America. This timely exhibition addressed emerging culture-change and the impact of skate culture on urban and reservation Native American communities. The exhibition drew together archival film, photographs, and skateboard deck motifs and contemporary iconography created by skateboard companies and contemporary artists. The skateboard culture is rapidly becoming a transborder phenomena in both Canada and the United States. Skateboard park design companies are currently engaged in constructing professional, and in some instances, monolithic concrete parks on reservation land. Despite the divergent polarity in communities concerning the influence of popular culture, marketing, and consumerism, Native American youth are quite adept and savvy in their ability to not only negotiate this contemporary movement, but also to engage and infuse it with their own unique form of cultural branding.
Additional Resources complied by students in the Contemporary Native American Art History Course at IAIA, Spring 2013
Indian Country Today Media Network. “Time-Lapse Video of Douglas Miles Drawing, ‘The Awakening.’ .” 2009. http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/article/time-lapse-video-of-douglas-miles-drawing-the-awakening-117181.
In this post, a video covering his piece, The Awakening, is shown. This was completed during his week-long residency at Duhesa Lounge of Colorado State University.
Miles, Douglas. Apache Skateboards (blog). http://apacheskateboards.com.
This is Douglas Miles’ personal website and blog. It is updated regularly with blog posts and videos.
Williams, Scott A. “The Creative Vision of Douglas Miles: Shaping a Community with Art.” MotoBones Wordsmith (blog), http://motobones.net/?page_id=532.
In this article, the artist states his interest in inspiring the youth of his tribe.
Wise, Kathy. “Apache Skateboards: A new Native American Iconography.” Cowboys & Indians, June 2009 http://www.cowboysindians.com/Cowboys-Indians/June-2009/Apache-Skateboards-a-new-Native-American-iconography/.
In this article, Douglas Miles’s work is covered along with the interviews from members of his Apache Skateboard team.
Bigfeather, Joanna. Native Views: Influences of Modern Culture. Ann Arbor: Arttrain USA, 2004.
The artist recounts how he began his company, Apache Skateboards.
“Indian Market: The Next Native Nation.” The Santa Fe Reporter, August 18, 2004, sec. 30.
The artist answers a series of questions that cover his identity, artistic focus, and his opinion of the Santa Fe Indian Market.