Utilizing students’ pop culture interests within a larger social and cultural context is a great way to prompt them to open up and explore the intersectionality of identity and formulate understandings of our culture at large. I am sure that all of us who have taught art have had a student who was technically skilled at drawing, but would only make carbon copies of characters from their favorite books or TV shows. Instead of this generic imitation, I have often implored these student artists to add something uniquely personal within their technically savvy renderings, in order to expand upon the canon of their influences from visual culture. Having them consider making a genuine imitation of a popular trope, is a way to get them to take agency of their creativity while expressing their own social and cultural backgrounds and experiences.
Art teaches us to notice patterns and develop a vocabulary full of insightful symbolic references that incorporate our backgrounds, traditions, personal experiences and identities. A great example is Andy Everson‘s fusion of iconic images from the Star Wars canon and traditional imagery from Indigenous culture. Everson is a lifelong fan of the Star Wars Universe (the fictional timeline and environments that encompass all of the archetypal themes and storylines from the franchise). He is also an Indigenous Canadian with familial roots to the K’omoks First Nation. Additionally, he is a visual artist and performer. These three facets of his intersectional identity are expressed in a series of artworks that combine recognizable figures from the Star Wars series with motifs and symbols from his K’omoks and Kwakiutl heritage.
The use of Star Wars’ accessible and familiar imagery lets Everson communicate a more personal message that is far less known, which is the trials and tribulations of the Indigenous peoples in Northwest America. Examples of Everson’s Indigenous-centered aesthetic reimaginings of Star Wars imagery, are Resistance and Northern Warrior, which depict a Stormtrooper character whose armor is adorned with representative markings that are rooted in the visual language of the K’omoks and Kwakiutl traditions.
The Stormtroopers, who are foot soldiers for the fictional Star Wars Galactic Empire, are alarming real-life allusions to the stormtroopers of Nazi Germany, and the horrors of imperialism at large. Everson noticed patterns between the Star Wars narrative and the history of global imperialism. Northern Warrior speaks to establishing cultural sovereignty by dismantling the colonial and imperialist whitewashing of Indigenous culture. The redesigned Stormtrooper displays the spiritual and cultural symbols of the K’omoks people, which signifies a reclamation of Indigenous land and history from white colonial oppression. Everson’s new Stormtroopers are akin to tribal warriors whose mission is to assert and celebrate their values, customs and spirituality to protect and uphold the present and future of Indigenous life. The Stormtrooper’s new colorful armor erases white supremacist parallels of the original Stormtropers by “doing away with the uniform’s whiteness and covering it with formline designs” (Lee, 2020). Everson has donned his own creations to take part in unique interpretations of customary K’omoks warrior dances and performances. Diné photographer Will Wilson photographed Everson in his regalia.
Everson also transforms other seminal Star Wars figures, such as Yoda, the renowned Jedi Master and educator, who becomes representative of a tribal elder. Series villains, such as Darth Maul, are re-presented as oppressors.
Everson has established an innovative means of representation to raise awareness about subjects and issues that he feels are pertinent to the sociocultural environment that envelops him and his community. His interests are rooted in the desire to express his background and identity in a meaningful manner within the context of contemporary life. In doing so, Everson is recognizing the importance of nurturing traditional wisdom, faith and traditions in a fluctuating and multifaceted civilization.
The blending of specific familial traditions, prior knowledge and experiences with popular culture is a prime example of how artistic imagery can be employed to make effective and moving statements about society at large. In the educational environment, this can be a great teachable moment for students who show interest in depicting their favorite pop culture images. Prompting students to apply critical thinking and imagination to their facsimiles, makes for profound works of art and revelatory learning experiences.
Artfully Learning would like to acknowledge that the author/editor/founder writes these posts on the Indigenous land of the Lenape peoples; and also the Ohlone people due to the fact that this content is powered by WordPress, who’s parent company, Automattic sits on their Indigenous land.
References, Notes, Suggested Reading:
Barnard, Linda. “The K’ómoks Artist Who Blends His Love of Star Wars with West Coast Indigenous Art.” Montecristo Magazine, 14 July 2018. https://montecristomagazine.com/arts/komoks-artist-blends-love-star-wars-west-coast-indigenous-art?fbclid=IwAR0PMUNpVKONIqLPEz1rRsO-i4aXwAOo3-v-Af78C-KMf-XRuJAbKVxx3cc
Lee, Tina. “Object of the Week: K’ómoks Imperial Stormtrooper.” SAMBlog, 30 October 2020. https://samblog.seattleartmuseum.org/2020/10/komoks-imperial-stormtrooper/