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“People have the audacity to say this name is an honor, but I find it hard to believe that the moment a touchdown is made, and people start singing ‘Hail to the [Pigskins],’ everyone is thinking about the systematic genocide of indigenous people,” the indigenous artist says.
Deal, much of whose work takes direct aim at the Pigskins’ name and mascot, unveiled a new mural on Sunday in Edgewood during Fine Lines Mural Jam, a street-art event held by the graffiti and hip-hop nonprofit Words Beats & Life. It’s a likeness of Chief Joseph, a 19th century Nez Perce leader famed for his peace advocacy, framed in banners that read “American Genocide Reconciled Thru Football.” The mural is one of dozens painted on a 990-foot wall at 514 Rhode Island Ave. NE.
To bring his message off the wall and onto the Internet, Deal included three of the most-used hashtags in Twitter conversations about racist mascots—#changethename, #notyourmascot, and #changethemascot—and one repping Honor the Treaties, a crew of indigenous street artist-activists.
Since last June, Deal has stationed himself in public spaces (Times Square, Santa’s village at a shopping mall, and, this coming Saturday, the Cherry Blossom Festival) while sporting stereotypical Native American garb as part of a performance-art piece called “The Last American Indian on Earth.” He wears a black handprint across his mouth and sometimes holds signs: “My spirit animal is white guilt” or “Native Americans discovered Columbus.”
“Traditional Washington [Pigskin] Honor Ceremony,” a performance piece that Deal debuted at Columbia Heights venue the Dunes last month, featured a white man in Pigskins gear in front of a TV, wearing a foam finger and clutching a tallboy of Budweiser.
Deal says his art, a reflection of his own experiences as an indigenous person, offers insight that’s ignored in today’s Pigskins debates. Most high-profile discussions, like this one (hosted by Anderson Cooper, a progressive by any measure), haven’t included a Native American voice, Deal points out.
“It’s about actually looking at it from perspective of indigenous person, instead of trying to assume that’s what indigenous people think,” he says. “It’s an issue that goes back much longer than the 80 years of this football team, or the 40 years of activism to change the name.”
According to Deal, part of his new mural’s power lies in its location: a neighborhood full of longtime D.C. residents, many of them the kind of diehard Pigskins fans who might take issue with a painting that brings the legacy of genocide onto the field.
“Somebody will likely come along to deface [the mural],” he says. “But street art is temporary…It’s part of the statement of the work. If it gets defaced, it’ll just be proof that we need more education on these issues.”
Photos by Dakota Fine, courtesy Gregg Deal