Jimmie Durham Inspires Us to Think About Stereotypes
When you see Jimmie Durham’s artwork in the exhibition, Jimmie Durham: At the Center of the World, you understand that art and activism are powerful tools. Durham’s art highlights injustices committed against communities of color, including Native Americans whose culture has long been exploited for American pop-cultural gain—from insensitive depictions of Native Americans in film and television to racist mascots like the Braves. These stereotypes are harmful and must be stopped.
Jimmie Durham’s exhibition can be complicated to talk about with young ones (and grown-ups, for that matter), which made it all the more important to organize a Hammer Kids program around his work. Last month, in Kids’ Campaign to Correct History, families joined forces with artists Sam Durant and Elisa Harkins to challenge the racist mascots of America’s national sports teams. Families learned Cherokee words with Elisa (Cherokee/Muscogee), made protest signs proclaiming why racist mascots should be eliminated, and wrote postcards to the commissioner of the National League of Football imploring him to change the name of Washington D.C.’s football team, the R*dskins (it is spelled this way since the name is considered a racial slur).
Inspired to explore the exhibition with your family? Here are some tips for discussing one of Durham’s artworks related to stereotypes, On Loan from the Museum of the American Indian:
- Define “stereotype” together. (A stereotype is an unfair belief about a group of people.)
- Ask, “What do we know about our culture?”
- Write or discuss five characteristics about your culture.
- Ask, “How would you feel if someone picked only one of these characteristics to tell the entire story of our culture?”
Background for grown-ups: In this artwork, Durham mocks the role that institutions have played in spreading Native American stereotypes. Why do museums choose to display a fragment of Native American life (arrows, feathers, bone)? How do these choices perpetuate Native American stereotypes? Jimmie Durham is telling us something important: Native Americans shouldn’t be locked in history; they are living, evolving, and diverse.
If you would like to learn more about the campaign to defeat racism in sports, check out this list of websites and videos.
Jimmie Durham: At the Center of the World is on view through May 7.