Saturday, August 22, 2009

Mayor Daley, Ald. Smith Dedicate "Indian Land Dancing" Bricolage

On this fall-like August morning, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and Alderman Mary Ann Smith (photo left) helped dedicate a mural in the underpass at Foster Avenue and N. Lake Shore Drive. A crowd of approximately 150 looked on. This portion of the mural is called "Indian Land Dancing." Neither Smith nor Daley danced, unless you count a gratuitous appearance at a mural dedication as a type of dancing.

The mural is a beautiful stretch of eye candy, both visually appealing and evoking a sense of history. It is composed of hundreds of ceramic and mirror tiles, photographs and paintings. The mural is a project by local artists and young people from Alternatives, Inc. which took about six weeks to create.

According to Chi-Town Daily News writer Natasha Wasinski "Project designers Tracy VanDuinen, Todd Osborne and Cynthia Weiss reached out to Native American artists, scholars and families last October to ask for direction and preliminary designs for the project. Involving the Native American community was integral to the project's success, VanDuinen says."

Wasinski quoted VanDuinen as saying, “We didn’t want to make it Indian-ish.” Rather, said VanDuinen, "the artists sought to portray Native Americans 'as a culture now met with their past.'” You'll notice that "Waskinski" is not an American Indian name, nor is VanDuinen, Osborne or Weiss.
The Indians did not insist on the mural being called "Native American Land Dancing." A bunch of white people, marching blindly to the drum beat of political correctness, stood in front of a mural made in large part by Indians, with a huge embedded title of "Indian Land Dancing," and insisted on calling the American Indians "Native Americans."

I'm not sure what VanDuinen meant by saying that they didn't want the mural to be "Indian-ish." The name of the mural is "Indian Land Dancing."

The very look of the mural is all about American Indians, a number of whom attended the dedication dressed in traditional costumes. The mural includes many large images of American Indians. VanDuinen's quote, then, is rather mysterious.

As the mayor and the 48th Ward alderman stood in front of the mural at 10:00 a.m., ten large lights burned without reason in the bright morning sun. Combined with thousands of other lights burning during the day throughout Chicago, hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money are wasted every year.

Daley and Smith seemed oblivious to the wasteful, non-green use of electricity even as they celebrated the American Indian-themed mural and listened to speeches about harmony with nature. I wonder how many people at the dedication saw the disconnect of a beautiful mural that celebrates American Indian heritage being stuck underneath a concrete-and-steel highway overpass in Lincoln Park, named after a man who participated in the Indian Wars of the 19th Century.

The origin of the word "bricolage" is French. Mirriam-Webster's Online Dictionary defines bricolage as "construction (as of a sculpture or a structure of ideas) achieved by using whatever comes to hand." The term "bricolage," then, is not restricted to murals made of a variety of things. As the dictionary tells us, it could refer to a "structure of ideas." If I interpret the definition correctly, a casserole made with whatever left-overs are available could be called a bricolage.

Another definition is "the jumbled effect produced by the close proximity of buildings from different periods and in different architectural styles." That's from The Collins English Dictionary.

The best definition seems to come from Wise Geek. They tell us that bricolage is "a word which is used to mean an assemblage of objects, along with the trial and error process of putting such objects together. Someone who practices bricolage is known as a bricoleur. Bricolage plays an important role in a number of fields, from computer programming to music, and it is part of the artistic and cultural expression of many cultures around the world. You may have even engaged in a bit of bricolage yourself; perhaps, for example, you rigged up a simple solution to a household problem, using materials which were to hand. This is a form of bricolage."