Frank Buffalo Hyde
Frank Buffalo Hyde creates multi-layered and challenging works that flout prevailing stereotypes of American Indian culture with piercing insight and wry humour. His work examines the themes of land-theft, colonization and the genocide of Native Americans. Through pop-cultural imagery, he confronts the continuing exploitation and exoticisation of tribal people, and navigates the complex interplay between Native legacies and the visual language of commercialisation.
The buffalo is an emblem of Hyde’s painted and sculptural art and an eponymous reference to his own identity. Symbolising abundance, endurance and strength, and crucial to so many aspects of the old traditional life, the buffalo is afforded the greatest respect. When buffalo herds were hunted to near extinction by 19th century settlers many tribes no longer had the means of independent survival. Simultaneously, the government introduced reservations to contain and control tribes whose freedom and life-way had been intrinsically connected to the buffalo and the land.
Buffalo Totem Series
In Buffalo Totem Series, Hyde presents the bison in burgers, evoking the deeply traumatic historical events surrounding the animal. By reading the buffalo as synonymous with Indian tribes, the stacked burgers depict the commodification of American Indian cultures by a society addicted to instant gratification and bent on plundering any aspect of Native America that can be easily sold and digested.
Buffalo Totem Series also offers an alternative to the pre-packaged, mass-produced, cholesterol-laden American beef-burger. Replacing the obesity-inducing junk food product with healthy and nutritious native buffalo meat would benefit contemporary American society immensely, as would the embracing of many other aspects of the traditional Native life way.
The spotted backgrounds of these paintings symbolise the government sanctioned spread of small pox amongst Native tribes – an act of genocide paralleled in the destruction of the bison population. From the unlikely raw materials of this legacy and the vacuous society in which all Americans must now coexist, Hyde constructs totems to honour the buffalo, the endurance of Native peoples and the goodness that remains at the core of Indian culture. This act of artistic optimism reminds us to seek beauty and creative potential in the most desolate situations and to find ways of honouring cultural identity that are relevant to the times in which we live.