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Indigenous artist and performer Gregg Deal has a lot to say. For the past several years, Deal has addressed issues of race and identity in performance-art pieces, like “The Last American Indian On Earth,” and visual works of activism, like his “American Genocide” mural in Edgewood, which takes aim at the Washington football team’s racist name.
Most recently, Deal appeared on a panel in a Daily Show segment about Dan Snyder‘s team that’s already making waves before it even airs. That panel reportedly devolved into verbal nastiness, a retroactive call to the cops, and a too-good-to-be-true Twitter hashtag, #whitetears. Deal’s latest performance, “Redskin,” premiers at Art All Night at 7 p.m. this Saturday. Over the course of eight hours, Deal will endure a flurry of insults and transgressions from other performers dressed as typical Pigskins fans.
Tell me about “Redskin.”
This one is much more serious. I’ve used humor in the past to help things be a little more approachable. I’m not using humor for this. There will be some humorous aspects in the installation, but this performance piece is pretty in-your-face. The time for polite irritation is over. It’s going to start small and escalate. There’s a term anthropologists use called microaggression, which is the little nitpicking things that happen within society that are often overlooked or understated that people think they can get away with. A good example is someone coming along and saying, “Well, you don’t look Indian,” and then [they] turn around and say, “Well, my great-great-grandmother was part Cherokee.” In that one statement, they’ve managed to invalidate me and validate themselves, all based on romanticism and based on their own sense of authority. The Washington [Pigskins] might not be as micro, but it’s still microaggression. And it exists everywhere. Since it exists within the American vernacular, I thought that if I put all of this in one concentrated place for eight hours, it’s going to be really difficult for someone to deny or overlook what microaggression is or what it could possibly do.
How do you expect onlookers will react?
Performance art is so incredibly powerful, especially for indigenous people. For me, it gives me the power to illustrate some things without having to explain what microaggression is, or why it’s inappropriate. I think that the response will be exactly what you’d expect. I think that you’ll have people that will respond to it appropriately, I think that some people will respond to it inappropriately. If somebody joins in, I think that it will illustrate my point really well. Some people will dismiss it, too, and that’s fine. Art isn’t for everybody, that’s sort of the beauty of it.
Will you be in a costume, like in “The Last American Indian On Earth”?
No. I’m going to be wearing a black Dickies work shirt and a black pair of Dickies work pants and some work boots. Sort of civilizing, sterile institutionalism. Sort of like prison; everybody wears the same thing. My hair will be braided and wrapped in double braids. And I will be wearing a beaded medallion that will have a cross-hairs target on it.
Where did you draw inspiration for the performance?
The inspiration comes from my life. These are things that I’ve heard. I worked at the National Museum of the American Indian for its inaugural year, 2004 to 2005. I worked with a group of indigenous docents on the floor, interacting with the public and explaining things. That played a really big part in me knowing what to expect. On a long enough timeline, any indigenous person will hear the things you will hear [on Saturday]. It’s a sad state, but it’s the truth. I’ve been called a redskin out of anger; I’ve been called a prairie nigger. These things exist in the vernacular of America. That’s where the inspiration comes from.
That’s horrifying and depressing.
It is. And that’s a good reason for doing “Redskin” in Washington, D.C. People dismiss this stuff because they have the privilege of not ever having to hear it or endure it. For whatever reason, people of privilege tend to believe that if they don’t see it, if they don’t hear it, it doesn’t exist. This exists more in Washington, D.C. than just about anywhere else because D.C. is informed by the [Pigskins]. I did “The Last American Indian”in New York; I did it in Santa Fe; I did it in Portland, Ore., and it was worse here than anywhere else I’ve been. I got crap everywhere, but I got a greater concentration here than anywhere else, I think because of the sports team.
But you were actually reluctant to jump into the name change debate, right?
When I first got into the debate was because I was going on News Channel 8. I asked them specifically if they were going to bring up the debate, and they said yes. And my wife and I had a very specific conversation about whether or not I would have a public opinion about it because I knew full well what the most rabid fans are like, and I know how they’d react, particularly to an indigenous person. Especially in America, where indigenous people don’t get respect, at least not what other people think is respect. Just because you saw Dances With Wolves doesn’t mean you respect the people.
So I had to make a conscious decision about it. The [Pigskins] issue is about identity. When you have an indigenous person trying to assert their identity, you have a multi-millionaire saying that you can’t, and then you have fans that are telling me whether something is offensive, which means I don’t know my identity. Now that it’s gained so much ground, it gives me a platform to have that opinion.
Has the team ever responded or even acknowledged what you’re doing?
No. Nobody has reached out to me or said anything to me. I don’t really expect them to. I’m kind of grassroots. There are other people out there doing some pretty incredible stuff on the forefront. If they reach out to me, it’d be great. I’m not going to lie, I called this thing “Redskin,” singular, and I used their logo type, and I took the “s” off for a very specific reason. If I hear from them because of that, I think that’d be great.
By the way, what’s the state of your mural in Edgewood?
Last time I was there, which was maybe a month or so ago, it was still there. It was faded, but it was still there. You have to work to get to it a little bit. But yeah, as far as I know, it’s still there, and that’s cool.
“Redskin”will incorporate some of your graphic art as well, right?
I use that to create some of my pieces. I do screen-printing as well, sometimes. For this piece, it’s also an exhibition installation, so I have a big mural going in the front of the building, a little bit toward the entrance of the building, and inside, I’ll also have a mural. Right now, the mural inside is supposed to be a Russian propaganda-style piece of Dan Snyder saying something like, “You will be honored.” That will be inside, and it will be even bigger than the piece out front. All of it will be commentary.
“Redskin” will begin at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 27 at 1511 7th Street, NW.