Museum of Contemporary Native Arts

Jim Denomie

By Bradley Pecore

Born in 1955, Jim Denomie is an artist from Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Ojibwe in northern Wisconsin. He currently lives in Franconia, Minnesota. Recognized primarily for his paintings dealing with Native American post-contact histories, Denomie additionally works with inks, oil pastels, and found objects in prints and sculpture. He earned a BFA at the University of Minnesota, Duluth (1995) and is the recipient of a Minneapolis City Pages Artist of the Year award (2007), Bush Artist Fellowship (2008) and Eiteljorg Native American Fine Art Fellowship (2009). Denomie’s work was shown internationally at  Westphalian Museum for Natural History in Munster, West Germany (1999). In 2005, he produced one painting a day for one year as an exercise in pushing his mastery of skill and understanding his chosen medium. This body of work, comprised of over four hundred experimental canvases, was shown at the exhibition New Skins at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in 2007. Denomie adopts a post-colonial reading

Denomie adopts a post-colonial reading of the Indigenous histories of Native North America with a focus on the United States. His works illustrate a volatile historical record of America in contrast to emblematic Ojibwe sensibilities. His appropriations take the form of “metaphorical surrealism” through use of parody, horror and humor.[1] In Attack on Fort Snelling Bar and Grill (2007), Denomie constructs a hyperspace only the artist can imagine, framing the work in a classic Western pictorial tradition. His historical cross-references create a cyclical and episodic simulacrum, a collage of layered meaning. In this piece, the Indian is stricken of his idealized romantic sentiments. Stereotypical motifs are presented to express recognizable “Indianness.” Flags and vestiges of contemporary American popular culture are juxtaposed with nude Indians and figures adorned in fully feathered headgear — galloping in an apocalyptic technicolor dreamscape. Indians mount John Deere lawn mowers, perverted priests offer false salvation, women protect their children from nuclear holocaust while inside the White Castle-like façade of a fort, American customers and cavalry dutifully enjoy their burgers and beer. Waboose, the rabbit,  celebrates — administering the rampage around the fort’s periphery. The promise of money and prosperity are placed in the sunset beside the full-mooned warrior who takes aim on the Governor of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty.2 To fully document the scene, the ethnographic photographer Edward Curtis is shown capturing the moment of conflict. Amid the resistance, an Ojibwe couple poses in “American Gothic” fashion, in essence proclaiming the Ojibwe will spearfish forever.

Denomie’s point of view cross-cultivates art history with popular culture and Native American histories. The artist’s aesthetic perspective is a proactive platform, a truth articulated in a past/present commingling intended for liberation and understanding. Denomie acts as a social visionary with distinct referential tools that borrow and twist, teasing our interpretation and manipulating our gaze.


 

[1] Gail T remblay, “Art T hat S ings and S tings,” in Art Quantum: The Eiteljorg Fellowship for Native
American Fine Art, ed. James N ottage (Indianapolis: E iteljorg Museum of A merican Indians
and W estern A rt, 2009), 39.
[2] Ibid., 42.
[3] Ibid.