Humor in Native American art: ‘Laughter and Resilience’

A fascinating look at humor, comedy and satire in Native American cultures can be seen at the Eiteljorg Museum in Indianapolis through August 8 during the exhibition, Laughter and Resilience: Humor in Native American Art.

Featuring paintings, cartoons, pottery, jewelry, textiles, cultural objects and mixed media, Laughter and Resilience is a traveling exhibition organized by the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Some artworks from the collections of the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art also will appear in Laughter and Resilience. Public programs related to the exhibition are scheduled throughout the summer and include virtual talks with some of the exhibition’s artists as well as comedy performances.

“When we saw how the Laughter and Resilience exhibition at the Wheelwright Museum conveyed many layers of humor in Native American cultures, we were committed to bringing it to Indianapolis to engage audiences,” Eiteljorg Museum President and CEO John Vanausdall said. “After the difficult past year many people endured, this thought-provoking exhibition will be a refreshing experience, exploring how the ability to laugh even under challenging circumstances can be a form of resilience.”

Artworks in Laughter and Resilience are organized under four broad themes: satire and parody, whimsy, cartoons and cartooning, and Tricksters. In some Native American and First Nations cultures, Trickster figures are sometimes represented as Coyote, Raven or Rabbit, and they can be mischievous; Tricksters teach parables or engage in clever pranks that help implement standards of conduct in the community. Additionally, some of the exhibited works include parodies or adaptations of symbols from popular culture to poke fun at or comment ironically on life’s quirks.

Among the artists whose works are included in the exhibition are Kathleen Wall (Jemez Pueblo), Frank Buffalo Hyde (Onondaga/Nez Perce), Ricardo Caté (Santo Domingo Pueblo), 2005 Eiteljorg Fellow Harry Fonseca (Nisenan/Maidu/Portuguese/Hawaiian), 2021 Eiteljorg Fellow Steven Yazzie (Diné), and many others. 

Donald F. Montileaux (Oglala Sioux, born 1948), Fast Food/Super Sized, 2002. Pencil, ink on paper. Eiteljorg Museum Gift of Carole Leve Tavel, 2018.21.4

Check Eiteljorg.org/events for a full lineup of virtual and in-person Laughter and Resilience: Humor in Native American Art public programming events, some of which have registration fees. Highlights include an in-person performance by dancer and hip-hop artist Christian “Supaman” Parrish Takes the Gun (Apsáalooke (Crow) on August 7 at 6 PM.

About the Eiteljorg Museum

A cultural pillar for 32 years in downtown Indianapolis’ scenic White River State Park, the Eiteljorg Museum seeks to inspire an appreciation and understanding of the arts, histories and cultures of the Indigenous peoples of North America and of the American West by telling amazing stories. Located on the Central Canal at 500 West Washington St., the Eiteljorg is a 501c3 nonprofit organization. It was named one of the USA Today Readers’ Choice 10 Best Indiana Attractions

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