Commodities of Defiance: New Mexico based visual artist Jesse Littlebird challenges capitalist complacency in contemporary society through work that leverages concepts of identity and cultural memory.
Jesse Littlebird creates works of art that act as an evolution of cultural storytelling. Recognizing his Laguna and Kewa Pueblos ancestry, the practice of oral histories, mythologies, and memory are translated into his paintings. However, the work by Littlebird is more than a representation of identity. Here, Littlebird has developed a distinctive visual language that becomes a vehicle to subvert mainstream perspectives on the current state of our society. The work questions, critiques, and makes assertions to muck up the cogs of capitalism that continuously work to shut out cultures and people that defy its absolute power.
Paradox of Consumption
When viewing Littlebird’s work recognition of the uniquely southwestern glyphs, animal forms, and elements of the landscape are met with historical references and contemporary elements. Conceptions of the ‘primitive’ are confronted with elements of the modern within a single piece. Confusion mounts as the viewer experiences a feeling of displacement from time; the viewer has fallen victim to the perpetuated idea that these cultures disappeared long ago and now face them as their presence is reasserted.
By reinforcing the existence of indigenous people in the contemporary world, so often falsely assumed to be lost to history, and pairing them with contemporary objects or experiences, Littlebird offers a critique on the value of culture as a commodity. Just as the masters of Pop Art created commentary challenging the systems of production and reproduction that rule society, Littlebird toys with capitalist forms of commodification. Through his authentic and cutting approach, he uses his work to challenge appropriative attempts to profit from Native cultures or erase them entirely. Through the mere creation, sale, and propagation of imagery associated with a continent of people who challenged capitalism’s stake on their land, their culture, their identities, Littlebird creates a paradox of commodification criticizing the legitimacy of the capitalist system.
Lost in the Fog of Capitalist Psychosis
Fragmented pieces of pictographic bulls erupt from a corporate business suit. Eyes glowing blue and red, the anthropomorphized figure exudes chaos that appears to directly contradict the supposed professionalism associated with the figure’s attire. The abstracted nature of pieces such as “Bullish Schizo within a Color Field of Red” reflects the intense responses of the individual in today’s world. The work exposes the truth, that we have all lost touch with reality as we continually view the world through the distorted, manic, and even monstrous lens of the self-proclaimed free market. We have blindly accepted a way of life that fetishizes the monetary and traps us in a live-to-work lifestyle as that slowly drives us into an inescapable state of insanity.
This state of hopelessness, chaos, and delirium emerges from Littlebird’s work. With a style that converges somewhere between Jean-Michel Basquiat and Barry McGee. Littlebird creates a dynamic approach that incorporates the complexities of expressionist movements and the impactful yet accessible use of color and line found in street art and then through his distinctive technique he elevates these sentiments. Emotive and gestural applications of paints, excavated layers that feel as if the canvas has been clawed at, and fire forcing paint to curl away from or bubble at the surface. These textural elements of Littlebird’s work convey the deep-seated emotions that we collectively suppress as we enter a cycle of aimlessly defying and blindly accepting capitalist methods of control.
Jesse Littlebird creates works of defiance. They exist in spite of the ruling powers of enterprise, rejecting complacency with systems of control, and elevate his own cultural presence. For Littlebird, identity and heritage have become a catalyst for stimulating a larger commentary on how capitalism has run rampant in shaping not only how our society functions, but our perceptions of what society is supposed to be.