Museum of Contemporary Native Arts

Marcus Amerman

By Heather Igloliorte

Marcus Amerman is a gen re-crossing , multidisciplinary artist of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Perhaps best known for his realistic, pictorial beadwork, Amerman has also contributed significantly to the field of Native American art in style and media. While his photographic works are particularly significant (especially those that form a dialogue with Edward S. Curtis’s photography from The North American Indian series), he is also a prolific painter and multimedia artist. Additionally, he is a celebrated clothing and fashion designer, an accomplished glass sculptor and a performance artist with a controversial agenda and a larger-than-life persona, that of Buffalo Man. Amerman resists easy categorization and his long list of exhibitions and publications reflects this unusual career trajectory. His work has been featured in traditional craft and folk art museums like the Bead Museum in Glendale, Arizona, as well as in such cutting edge Native American exhibitions as Staging the Indian: The Politics of Representation (2002) at the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College.

Amerman’s subject matter oscillates between mediums, but a thread of social commentary and an inquisitive nature knits together these otherwise diversified artistic practices. The artist has famously espoused, “Art is War,” and discussed the complex relationship of art and divinity in terms of what might be best described as a process of embracing the mysteries of life. These philosophies of resistance and wonder have guided his artistic practices for over two decades.

Aesthetically, much of his beadwork and painting takes its cues from Pop Art — an interest that Amerman developed while a student of fine arts at Whitman College and later, at the Institute of American Indian Arts. Amerman infuses this Pop Art style with Native American images from the mid-twentieth century, mainstream advertising and portraits of iconic Indians throughout history. In an extension of this portrait genre, he beaded his now-infamous likenesses of Janet Jackson, as well as Barack Obama, Wonder Woman and a plethora of other non-Native cultural figures. In this way, Amerman claims American pop culture as his own, challenging his audience to broaden their understanding of what it means to be Native in America.

An early beadwork piece, Iron Horse Jacket (1993), depicted a black and white striped bikini-clad Brooke Shields emblazoned on the back of a studded leather jacket, intertwining Native practices with an ode to conventions of Hollywood beauty. Amerman quickly developed a signature style of contemporary beadwork, stitching in neat rows and spiral formations over black and white photocopies to create vividly-colored, realistic portraiture and imagery.

In works such as Crazy Horse in the City (2007) the great Lakota leader is depicted standing in a technicolor urban landscape beneath a low flying airplane. In the wry Postcard (2001), the words “Greetings from the Indian Country of the Great Southwest,” are boldly featured in billboard-style lettering on a bright blue background. Among the conventional “Indian” imagery of dancing braves and stoic chiefs, however, Amerman has inserted depictions of an exploding atomic bomb, a formation of fighter jets and an image of the moon landing. These meticulously crafted works, like so many of the multifarious examples of Amerman’s oeuvre, participate in the deconstruction of the myth of the “Old West” and “Indian Country,” while reclaiming and repatriating Indian imagery for a contemporary Native American audience.