In the last couple of years, along with my political and social activism, I have taken time to step back from the hype of the art market. I’m constantly in the process of aesthetic re-evaluation. My artistic style is in a state of flux; it continues to broaden.
-David P. Bradley
David P. Bradley is known for his paintings and sculptures that often convey a political message concerning Native Americans. He has been able to create a unique narrative folk style in his art, and although many of his pieces are overtly political, he does cover a wide range of topics and artistic styles. Bradley often parodies art historical or “pop culture” icons, such as the Mona Lisa. This could be seen in his Madonna of the White Earth Reservation, 1982.
This piece, Pow-Wow Princess in the Process of Acculturation, is yet another parody based on the Mona Lisa. This is evident in the way the woman is posed and in the background. As with most of Bradley’s works, this is a narrative painting, which presents a story. In the picture, a seated woman is wearing traditional garments along with a pageant banner reading “Miss Indian USA.” This refers to the contemporary practices of selecting princesses for Pow-Wow celebrations and the Miss Indian USA contest. Although she is dressed in a traditional outfit that consists of a purple wool dress adorned with elk teeth, a green shoulder blanket wrap, and a breaded crown with an eagle feather design, some aspects of her dress are completely untraditional. Her hands, which have purple painted nails, are crossed and in one she holds a cigarette. While tobacco represents honesty in the American Indian tradition, it seems odd when it is in the form of a cigarette. On her wrist, she wears an End of the Trail watch, a “pop culture” icon of the time. Again this is contradictory, because traditionally Native Americans did not keep time and instead measured time through a heartbeat or the moon. The background consists of two parts: a typical southwestern scene with a canyon, rock formations, deserts; and on the other side a large grouping of teepees. This scene is taken from an 1863 photograph of the Santee Sioux who were incarcerated at Fort Snelling during the winter, following the Sioux uprising of 1862 in Mankato, Minnesota. Bradley uses other artistic devices that regularly appear in his works: the asphalt highway, a small bird, a buffalo skull, and the ever-present dollar bill.
Plains Art Museum purchased this piece in 1991 after the Restless Native exhibition held from April 26 to June 30, 1991, at the Museum.
To be an artist from the Indian world carries with it certain responsibilities.. We have an opportunity to promote Indian truths and at the same time help dispel the myths and stereotypes that are projected upon us.. I consider myself an at-large representative and advocate of the Chippewa people and American Indians in general. It is a responsibility which I do not take lightly.
-David P. Bradley
David P. Bradley has played a significant role not only in the advancement of Indian art, but also in the struggle for Native American rights.
Bradley was born in Eureka, California on March 8, 1954, yet spent most of his childhood in Minneapolis and on the White Earth Ojibwe Reservation in Chippewa, Minnesota. He spent two years at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota before taking a break from school and joining the Peace Corps. He lived for the better part of two years in Guatemala with Mayan Indians and learned a new life outlook, “an experience with essentials,” that allowed him to better understand his heritage and “changed him forever.” After returning from the Peace Corps, he was drawn to the Southwest and attended the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, where he graduated first in his class with a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts. He also studied at the University of Arizona and the College of Santa Fe. He recently returned to the Institute of American Indian Arts as a guest artist and instructor.
Bradley has called his life and his art a symbolic vision quest. His work often expresses his philosophical and political ideas. Through his art he continues to campaign against American Indian stereotypes and the exploitation of Native art. He helped lead a legal campaign against fraudulent artists claiming to be of First Nations origin. He tries to encourage young Indian artists to stay away from the mass commercialized production of Native American artifacts. As a member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, Bradley strongly believes that Indians need to reclaim their own identity and work politically to assure they will survive as a distinct culture. He fights for this both politically and artistically.
Bradley has received numerous awards and fellowships, including recognition as the only artist to win the top awards in both the Fine Art categories of painting and sculpture at the Santa Fe Indian Market. He was also awarded the Southwestern Association of Indian Art Fellowship in 1980 and the Minnesota Chippewa Art Award for Merit in Art in 1979, among several others.
He has also been featured in several publications, including the New York Times and Who’s Who in American Art in 1982, Artspace Magazine in 1987 and many others, as well as television and radio shows.
Bradley has exhibited his work throughout the nation, including the Plains Indian Museum in Wyoming, the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Plains Art Museum in Fargo, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Armory for the Arts in Santa Fe, the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles, the North Dakota Museum of Art in Grand Forks, the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the American Indian Art Invitational in Lima, Peru, and many others. His work is in the permanent collections of various museums throughout the United States, especially in the southwest.
David P. Bradley, Pow-Wow Princess in the Process of Acculturation, 1990, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 36″