Straight Talk with
Interview by Guy Cross - 2003
Chiricahua Apache sculptor Bob Haozous is outspoken. He is anxious about the state of our planet, deeply troubled by the invisible barriers we create in ourselves, and has strong opinions about the role of Native American artists.
THE magazine: As an artist who happens to be an Indian, do you feel you are marginalized?
Bob Haozous: Yes, I am marginalized, and I accept that role. Even those definitions of being an Indian first or being an artist first are symptoms of the problem. All art comes from one’s cultural sensitivity and I am trying to define what my cultural sensitivity is. That’s been my goal for years.
TM: Do you consider your art to be religious or spiritual in nature?
BH: I don’t use those words. I’m trying to inspire people to come up with questions like: What is art? What is the value of art? What is the meaning of cultural art? I chose to be more than a decorator, or an illustrator, of Indian themes early in my career and have always attempted to inspire questions about cultural identity and purpose.
TM: Your art is politically orientated though, isn’t it?
TM: Talk about the political implications of your older work—like the piece at the University of New Mexico and the new work you are showing at Shidoni.
BH: The piece, Cultural Crossroads of the Americas at UNM, is concerned with the loss of the Mother Earth consciousness—it’s about the child of nature coming to the North and losing something important. The premise of the artwork concerns the migration of indigenous people to the North—to America—where you don’t need a mother.
TM: Why wouldn’t one need a mother, and when you say indigenous people, do you just mean Native Americans?
BH: I use the metaphor of the mother to denote the earth relationship that defines all life. Indigenous man commonly shares a multi-generational relationship with the earth that extends over a long period of time. Modern man’s identity is commonly called two-generational. We are all modern man, or becoming so.
TM: What is the two-generational viewpoint?
BH: The two-generational viewpoint is about caring for yourself, your children, and your elders, and having no concern beyond that. It ignores the long-range relationship of seven generations of the past and seven generations into the future that should define mankind. Instead, it’s a viewpoint based on individuality, ego, and economics.
TM: Are you saying that the seven generations viewpoint has been lost?
BH: Not lost, becoming lost. My statement is that indigenous man is becoming two-generational. For my exhibition at Shidoni, I am showing a limestone sculpture called Two Generation Woman—a woman who has gone from a seven-generation to a two-generation viewpoint, to the viewpoint of modern man. The seven-generation concept is based on a position of environmental responsibility that frames the compromises of destructiveness, necessity for our survival, and stewardship of the earth. The two-generation concept has removed the long-term obligation we have to the earth and places the focus on self. The woman is pure on one side and decorated on the other side. One hand is holding an object and the other hand isn’t. And the viewers can decide whatever they want.
TM: The new chrome- and gold-plated pieces are completely different than the limestone works—they’re circular, totem-like shapes with highly polished surfaces. The reality is that wherever they are shown, the surface acts as a mirror. Is what is reflected in the surface of the sculptures, which always changes, a part of the piece?
BH: Absolutely. They are a statement about identity. In the past I’ve worked with the Walt Disney depiction of an extremely sexualized Pocahontas that was forced upon us and has become a part of our contemporary Native identity. I mean, what can you do? That’s the way they think about us. My goal is to look in the mirror and not to see myself. Indigenous man sees everything that makes him, but the White Man sees only himself and he doesn’t see what makes him. I want people to understand that we are not standing on this earth—it’s holding us up. I also want to see the problems of Indian people—diet, alcohol, drugs, diabetes, suicide, violence, and ignorance, among other things—come through Indian people as a healing element of their art, because those things are such a prevalent part of our lives.
TM: And if that were accomplished, what kind of changes would occur in the world?
BH: I don’t know. I’m not really worried about that. I just think that the arts should play an important role in the education and redirection of Indian people into a positive and important future role concerning environmental philosophy. My current work is focused on an anti-war statement that should hopefully bring up questions about our participation as Native people in this nation and its continued war policies. When I asked a tribal chat group why we were fighting in America’s wars, worshiping America’s religions, and desperately seeking economic answers by parroting America’s destructive environmental and economic positions, I was quietly ousted from the dialogue.
TM: A moment ago you said, “that’s the way they think about us.” By they, do you mean the White Man?
BH: I mean the White Man in all of us.
TM: Are you saying that there is a White Man inside the Native person, and a Native person inside the White Man?
BH: There is the potential for both. We can go back to an earth relationship from either side. Native people are losing that relationship, and the White Man is farther along in that loss. It’s human nature to separate from nature because of our ego and self-worship. The tribal chat group on the Internet offered an opportunity to talk to one another and so I started asking the central questions an older person should ask younger people.
TM: Questions like?
BH: Is it your bloodline or skin color that makes you Apache? If not, what is it? Why do we think we are no different than those of our Indian past even though we don’t have the same nature-based values of our indigenous ancestors? Instead, we now base our identity on money, history, and ego. They got angry when I questioned their Christian values, which are human-based. All modern religions are based on the needs of humanity instead of nature. And yet all religions come from a nature basis. That basis is what is being lost. At the same time it’s something you really can’t lose because nature is the ultimate basis. If you breathe air, you’re a product of nature. But we pretend that we’re not a product of nature because our ego tells us that we’re superior or dominant to nature.
TM: Back to the circular shapes.
BH: I use the circle and the sphere as the female symbol or the living earth concept. And I’ve decorated it. The decoration is in the reflection of the viewer that includes our physical image and all that surrounds us. Long ago, I painted beautiful woods white and called it whitewashing, simply because we think that we control nature and in doing so we whitewash it. People actually think that the white concept has to do with skin color, but it doesn’t. We’re all the same. I use pure gold, which is the most hated object of the Apaches, on the reflecting surfaces. The nature standard is being given up by most indigenous people and replaced by a gold standard. We have accepted gold—or casino profits—as our identity basis. So we stand in line with our hand out because we have a bloodline right to take the money without earning it. Working for it means returning to a consciousness of the importance of nature and then actively repairing the damage. There is still a chance to do this.
TM: Do you think the casinos push Native people further away from nature?
BH: If it is acknowledged from the beginning that the casinos are just a way of making money dependent upon human weakness, then no. But it certainly seems to put you further away from nature. What really bothers me more than anything is that Native American art is based on the history, romance, and decoration of the past, or on the art dictates of modern man. Our art isn’t dealing with the profound problems or the complex people we are today. Why shouldn’t an honest self-portrait be the foundation of contemporary Indian art today?