Tom Jones: I am an Indian First and an Artist Second

This series is drawn from a current controversy in contemporary American Indian art that positions artists that claim their Native ancestry against those that prefer to minimize or even deny their Native heritage. This debate has come to be known as the "post-Indian" issue.

I question if a denial of one's cultural background is generated by mainstream Western art norms or if it is a form of identity genocide. Why do American Indian artists both claim Native ancestry (by utilizing Indian symbols or entering shows specifically geared towards Indian artists) and simultaneously reject classification as American Indian artists? This series addresses the tensions and multiplicity of identity referents currently at play in the context of our perceived "post-race" country.

I am using plastic toy Indians and the genre of abstraction as a metaphor for what I perceive as a form of identity genocide. These photographs are scans of the bottom stands of these plastic toy Indians. I wanted to play with the fact that from above the Indian figures are fighting with one another, which the viewer cannot see. The perspective of the abstracted bases allows only a surface rendering of the complexity of Native identity in the 21st century.

Tom Jones Born 1964, Charlotte, North Carolina

Tom Jones is an Assistant Professor of Photography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  He received his MFA in Photography and a MA in Museum Studies from Columbia College in Chicago, IL.

Jones’ photographs examine identity and geographic place with an emphasis on the experience of American Indian communities.  He is interested in the way that American Indian material culture is represented through popular/commodity culture, e.g. architecture, advertising, and self-representation.  He continues to work on an ongoing photographic essay on the contemporary life of his tribe, the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin.  He is critically assessing the romanticized representation of Native peoples in photography through the re-examination of historic pictures taken by white photographers. This reassessment questions the assumptions about identity within the American Indian culture by non-natives and Natives alike.  Jones is a co-author on the book “People of the Big Voice, Photographs of Ho-Chunk Families by Charles Van Schaick, 1879-1943.  Jones is the collections of the National Museum of the American Indian, Polaroid Corporation, Sprint Corporation, The Chazen Museum of Art, The Nerman Museum, and Microsoft.