Plains Indian Heads

Jason Lujan (Apache-Mexican), Indian Interpolations, 2004–08.

When I was asked to do a nickel, I felt I wanted to do something totally American — a coin that could not be mistaken for any other country’s coin. It occurred to me that the buffalo, as part of our western background, was 100 percent American, and that our North American Indian fitted into the picture perfectly.

“North American Indian”? It’s an amalgam, an impersonal and imaginary “Indian” every bit as nameless as the buffalo on its reverse. A linking or “bundling” occurs, “Indian” and animal, two sides, one coin, the settler ideology further secured through the symbolic logic and power of a perfect circle and precious metal (see Minting Identity).

Conclusions

Plains Indian Heads are everywhere and therefore overlooked. They are moved into background ubiquity, into our cognitive periphery, which Nancy Mithlo calls the “wallpaper” in the mind that we look through every day— ever-present yet invisible. In critical theory, the micro-racist visual culture may amount to what Timothy Morton calls a hyperobject, a huge, invisible atmosphere to the flame of ongoing racism and white supremacy—that “invisible environment” that artists sometimes try to point out.

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