Museum of Contemporary Native Arts

Tom Jones

Choka Watching Oprah (Jim Funmaker), 1998, from the series "The Hochunk People" Silver gelatin print, Courtesy of the artist

Choka Watching Oprah (Jim Funmaker), 1998, from the series “The Hochunk People” Silver gelatin print, Courtesy of the artist

 By Shanna Ketchum-Heap of Birds

Ho-Chunk photographer Tom Jones creates work that challenges long-standing assumptions and perceptions of Native people by portraying tribal members as active agents in the twenty-first century. With an eye for interrogating the past, Jones incites his viewers to reevaluate early photographs of Native people cast as nostalgic, romanticized renderings. Trained initially as a painter, Jones earned his MA in Museum Studies and MFA in Photography from Columbia College in Chicago, Illinois in 2002. Jones is currently assistant professor of photography in the Art Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

In the series Dear America (2002), Jones appropriates early twentieth-century postcards to create sixteen digital images that “portray an account of the Native American experience and their contributions to the history of the United States that is largely without voice in an American History education.”[1] Jones accomplishes this by handwriting the lyrics to the song “America (My Country, ‘Tis of Thee)” on the postcards and manipulating the original image to include Native people or subject matter. The result is a powerful reminder of the Native American presence in this country’s founding.

With Native Commodity (2007), Jones documents the tourist industry in the Wisconsin Dells region with recognizable symbols of Indianness used in architecture and advertising by local business owners. Jones intends to “draw upon and expose historic representations of Native peoples and the way that Native American material culture is represented in advertising and popular culture.”[2] Similarly, the Encountering Cultures (2008) series photographically captures participants in historical re-enactments of the Fur Trade Era from 1760 to 1840. Through these projects, Jones reveals “the American tendency to appropriate Indian dress and act out Indian roles” inspired mostly by Hollywood movies or Wild West shows.[3]

A focal point and strength intrinsic to Jones’s artistic practice is the Ho-Chunk nation to which he belongs. He states, “first and foremost, I am mindful of my responsibility to the tribe to help carry on a sense of pride about who and what we are as a people. I want the people to see the strength and resilience of the Ho-Chunk people.”[4] Through his ongoing photographic essay titled The Ho-Chunk People, Jones focuses on members of his tribe, “giving access to experiences and places that the non Ho-Chunk would normally be deprived of.”[5] The first photograph he took in the series was Choka Watching Oprah (1998) which depicts his Choka, or grandfather, Jim Funmaker.  In this and other photographs in the series, Jones underscores a sense of family and closeness in the community and brings attention to the contemporary aspects of Ho-Chunk life. This sense of identity and place is also carried out in the Honoring Warriors (2002) series whose central theme focuses on Ho Chunk veterans during Memorial Day celebrations.  According to scholar Susan Krouse, Jones’s photographs “celebrate the connections between Ho-Chunk warriors, past and present, and their homes, families, and community.”[6]

In his most recent project titled I Am An Indian First and an Artist Second (2008), Jones tackles the issue of Indian identity as an artist positioned within the contemporary Native art movement. In this compelling series, he addresses the “post-Indian” issue and asks the question: “Why do American Indian artists both claim Native ancestry and simultaneously reject classification as American Indian artists?”[7] The paradoxical nature of this question is matched by the abstract rendering of the bottom stands of plastic toy Indians that are “fighting with one another” where the viewer cannot see.[8] In this and his other works, Jones establishes himself as an important voice situated firmly within tribal cultural values.

Soda Totem, 2007, from the series "Native Community" Archival pigment print, Courtesy of the artist

Soda Totem, 2007, from the series “Native Community” Archival pigment print, Courtesy of the artist














[1] Tom Jones, “Artist Statement” for Dear America,

[2] Tom Jones, “Artist Statement” for Native Commodity,

[3] Tom Jones, “Artist Statement” for Encountering Cultures,

[4] Tom Jones, “Artist Statement,” Marjorie Devons, ed., Migrations: New Directions in Native American Art (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2006), 76.

[5] Tom Jones, “Artist Statement” for The Ho Chunk People,

[6] Susan Applegate Krouse, “A Warrior Celebration: The Photographs of Tom Jones,” Visual Anthropology 19 (2006): 295.

[7] Tom Jones, “Artist Statement” for I am an Indian First and Artist Second,

[8] Ibid.


Additional Resources compiled by students in Contemporary Native American Art History course at the Institute of American Indian Art, Spring 2013

Web-based Resources

Little, Adriane. “Tom Jones.” Tom Jones

This is contains a link to Tom Jones personal website.

Gebhart, Tim, “Native American Captures Ho Chunk Identity,” The Epoch Times (2010)

This website gives a brief biography and descriptions of his photo series The Ho Chunk People and Native Commodity.

Regan, Sheila, “Tom Jones explores ‘Identity, Appropriation and Reclamation’ at All My Relations Gallery” Citypages Blog, November 20, 2012.

This blog that takes a look at Jones’ exhibition Indian First: Identity, Apporpriation, and Reclamation.

“Tom Jones Artist Talks at the James Watrous Gallery,” Wisconsin Academy of Science Arts and Letters, March 9, 2012

On this website you’ll find a 20 minute video about the artist talking about his work.

Selected Bibliography

Devon, Marjorie, ed. Migrations: New Directions in Native American Art. University of New Mexico Press, 2006.

This book contains an artist statement followed by selected works and exhibitions Jones had appeared in.