From the European South

a transdisciplinary journal of postcolonial humanities

“Please, don’t discover me!”: il dibattito sull’arte delle popolazioni native, a cinquecento anni dalla ‘scoperta’ dell’America

Paola Valenti


“Please, don’t discover me!”: The Debate on Native American Art, Five Hundred Years after the ‘Discovery’ of America. “Columbus did not ‘discover’ America: he globalised a worldview”: taking Ziauddin Sardar’s quote from his 1993 article “Lies, Damn Lies and Columbus: The dynamics of constructed ignorance” as a point of departure and frame of reference, the essay aims to focus on the ways in which native peoples of America have used the Quincentenary of Christopher Columbus’ ‘discovery’ of the ‘New World’ as an opportunity to add their voice to an ongoing debate and to deconstruct dominant Western narratives surrounding Columbus’ enterprise and its dramatic consequences, based on what Sardar sharply defines as “a knowledgeable ignorance about non-Western people, traditions and cultures.” The paper intends to retrace these native voices and examine the way in which they address some of the main topics in this debate through a close reading of the essays published in the 1992 Fall issue of the influential magazine Art Journal, entirely dedicated to Recent Native American Art, and through an analysis of significant artworks by Jimmie Durham, James Luna, Guillermo Gomez-Peña and Coco Fusco that highlight the falsifications, prejudices and stereotypes permeating the Western discourse on the Columbian enterprise. Significantly, the debate concerning native art ignited by the Quincentenary merges with the issues of identity and (self)representation triggered by the controversy about the genealogical status of the self-declared Cherokee Jimmie Durham, accused by many native artists and scholars to be a ‘racial impostor’ but considered within the Western art system the American-Indian artist par excellence. The paper gives an account of this controversy to show the important role played by ethnicity within the
ongoing debate on native art.


Christopher Columbus, Columbian Quincentenary, Native American Art, Jimmie Durham, James Luna



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