Payómkawichum / Luiseño / US Artist – Performance Art, Installation Art, Photographer, Sculptor
James Luna is a Luiseno Indian artist and activist who uses his performances, installations, and words to challenge the confines of art-historical and museum exhibition practices, questioning the ways that Native American Indians are often remembered, “honored,” and pictured in the white imaginary.
Luna is best known for his 1985-7 performance of “Artifact Piece,” during which he laid his own near-naked body in a display case at the Museum of Man in San Diego. In the case, he labeled scars and personal belongings much as the curator had labeled archaeological objects displayed in the museum. As a living, human artifact, he challenged exhibition practices that often relegate Native American culture to natural history museums, as if all that is left are objects from an extinct people, rather than showcasing contemporary art from a culture very much alive. His piece famously called attention to the way the largely white art world and historical narrative excludes, ignores, and re-imagines Native culture.
In “Blinded by the White: Art and History at the Limits of Whiteness,” Ellen Fernandez-Sacco examined Luna’s art and practice as a resistance to and of whiteness. “Luna uses his body as an intervention, as physical evidence that he is part of the American experience. The frame of the original work is changed, and the gestures open an alternative space, to reflect upon identity.” As viewers circled his “Artifact Piece,” they were shocked to realize he was breathing. His intervention served to challenge and rewrite historical narratives, as if to scream, “We are still here, living and breathing amongst you.” (JSTOR daily)