New Artists in Focus Video Features Performance by Artist Gregg Deal

The Punk Pan-Indian Romantic Comedy is a music-themed talk and performance piece by Indigenous artist and activist Gregg Deal. This new work focuses on the music that has moved him throughout his life, speaking in stories and antidotes that follow a timeline of struggle, survival, and ultimately healing through the power of music. A work that is upsetting, dramatic and at times pretty funny outlines the way music has affected Deal’s life from his earliest memories to the present and how it has influenced his ideas, his artistic work and his voice.

Using a blend of autobiography and punk music, Deal’s video work ,Bad Indian, included in the exhibition i know you are, but what am i, examines indigeneity, historical narratives, decolonialization, humor, American pop culture, stereotypes, coded language, fluidity, and misconceptions.

It’s also about how a “person’s perception is determined by other people and the ongoing struggle to tackle his own,” said art critic Chadd Scott. Claiming a position of self-authorship outside of centuries of devaluations and reductive characterizations, Deal’s artwork explores, claims, and gives voice to his own lived experience.

Installation photograph, i know you are, but what am i?, Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, Jun 24, 2022–Jan 7, 2023, photo by Zachary Norman, © UMOCA

The Space Where Souls Get Eaten No. 2 represents the chairs used to remove indigenous children’s identity in boarding schools, such as the Stewart Indian School, where his grandparents were placed. Deal was “looking for a meaningful way to represent the pain and devastation caused by boarding schools on indigenous communities.” Through that search, he decided to focus on the chairs that became weaponized within the schools. These chairs became the place where many jarring experiences occurred. It was where “the child’s hair was cut, where they were punished for speaking their language, and where they were forced to eat.” It was also where they were taught to assimilate.

Recently an unmarked mass grave with 200 bodies was found near the boarding school that Deal’s grandparents attended. Deal’s son chose to cut his hair and have it included in the sculpture to acknowledge the sacrifice made by those children and their indigenous communities.