GOCA exhibit explores Native American heritage in pop culture

As cultural awareness grows around the question of living on land that was forcefully taken from Indigenous peoples, the Gallery of Contemporary Art is centering a Colorado-based artist’s take on what it means to be Native American today.

GOCA is exhibiting the work of Indigenous Paiute artist and self-styled “disruptor” Gregg Deal in “Esoo Tubewade Nummetu: This Land Is Ours,” which is showing in the Marie Walsh Sharpe Gallery at the Ent Center until Dec. 11.

Along with the exhibit, Deal will host his musical and visual performance piece, “The Punk Pan-Indian Romantic Comedy,” on Nov. 14 at 7 p.m. in the Chapman Recital Hall at the Ent Center, right next to the gallery.

Deal is the artist behind pieces around town such as “Take Back the Power,” a portrait mural of his child, Sage, located downtown on the corner between Pikes Peak Avenue and Tejon Street. GOCA director Daisy McGowan explained that Sage is depicted with a red handprint over their face, a symbol for missing and murdered Indigenous relatives.

According to McGowan, the core of Deal’s work is his heritage as a member of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe and how his self-image as a Native American has been twisted by pop culture and stereotyping. The name of the exhibit, “Esoo Tubewade Nummetu,” comes from Deal’s Paiute language.

“[Deal is] reckoning with these representations of Native Americans and Indigenous people and then trying to figure out his own identity,” McGowan said. “A lot of his work is dealing with that.”

McGowan described Deal’s style as a mix of traditional and contemporary, combining pieces of traditional Native regalia and patterns with modern punk art styles and clothing. This fusion of styles, McGowan believes, sheds a new light on the problems Indigenous people experience today.

Costume worn by the artist, Gregg Deal. Photo by Meghan Germain.

“[Deal] really helps people understand the issues surrounding representation and erasure of Native culture in a really accessible way, in a way that really makes sense, because he’s very relatable himself,” she said.

Deal’s approach also directly speaks to the cruelty Indigenous people have faced over the course of U.S. history. One of the pieces McGowan discussed, “These Things Happened,” features a trio of wooden panels that have a pair of authentic corpse tags in the center, which were used as markers for bounty hunters who would kill Indigenous people. According to McGowan, Deal found the corpse tags on eBay.

“I think overall what he’s saying is ‘hey, let’s not sweep this under the rug; let’s all face it because it’s all part of our collective history. These things did happen,” she said.

While Deal’s work can be found around town, traces of Colorado Springs are also found in his work. Among the pieces on display at the gallery is a mural on the back wall that Deal created specifically for the space. Bright spray paint and traditional Paiute patterns cover a patchwork of stereotypical depictions of Native Americans, including team mascots, comic book characters and the neon sign of a Native American attached to a building on South Nevada Road.

“His point with referencing all of these stereotypes is that they do erase the individuality,” McGowan said. “There [are] over 500 tribes in the U.S. alone … and so this kind of pop culture use of symbols to represent Native American Indigenous peoples is really problematic.”

Deal’s performance and exhibit are both free to attend, but registration is required for “The Punk Pan-Indian Romantic Comedy.”

Next year, GOCA will also host a “Take Back the Power” concert under Deal’s downtown mural on May 5, which is the National Awareness Day for missing and murdered Indigenous relatives.

Gregg Deal’s work exploring Indigenous culture through mediums inspired by popular culture and punk music is displayed in the GOCA exhibit at the Ent Center. Photo by Meghan Germain.