American “artist” Thom Ross has recreated a tableaux of Buffalo Bill Cody and his Wild West Show on Ocean Beach in San Francisco. This show was the equivalent of blackface minstrel shows of the 19th century but for Native Americans, yet is lauded in the press as a “tribute.” He himself is quoted as calling it a “Valentine to my hometown.” Of course, since Native Americans are such a marginalized population in the US, he can get away with it — life-size plywood figures of Sambo eating his watermelon with the head cut out so you can take a photo would never have made it off the drawing board. So much for cultural sensitivity, San Francisco.
It boggles the mind that such an astoundingly uncritical recreation is put up as a public art project in an ostensibly progressive major city. I’m used to dull things like giant arrows coming out of the ground. But is this art? Does it invite us to think about the image and it context? Does it intend to implicate us by inviting us to take the cutout photo-op because it should leave a dirty taste in our mouths? No. It’s simply a paean to a degrading, exploitative, and racist past. Valentine, indeed.
p.s. The comments on the Chronicle’s website are equally horrific.
p.p.s. There is some reaction from a show on KPFA.