Suburban Skookum, 2019

Inflatable, painted and printed vinyl bonded fabric and electric fan, 12’ x 3’ x 3’

“In his work Suburban Skookum, artist Lewis deSoto subverts the non-Native economy of Skookum dolls, which were created and sold in the early 1900’s by a woman from Missoula, Montana named Mary Dwyer McAboy.  These dolls depicted a standard, stereotypical image of an Indigenous person, wrapped in a blanket with a stoic expression and long black hair.  In contrast
, deSoto’s doll carries an inhaler and wears Minolta camera around his neck, a reference in part to the photographic aspect to the artist’s practice.  The figure also carries a microphone and audio recorder, which signifies a link to the artist’s history of creating sound installations and making sound recordings of Indigenous oral histories, and wears a flame-covered loin cloth and a T-shirt featuring the cover of King Crimson’s 1973 album Larks’ Tongues in Aspic; and stands atop a tire with the words “no such thing as wilderness” articulated along its side.  DeSoto nimbly code-switches between essentialized metaphorical visual vocabularies of Indigeneity and American suburbanity, taking often reductive depictions of the aforementioned and playing with and against stereotypical notions that are presented inherent truth with an alternate reading, by doing so deSoto also unsettles ideas of identity and Indigenous imagery.  As well as that, deSoto upends colonial frameworks such as Manifest Destiny, the 19th century ideology that westward expansion of settlers was inevitable, which was in part perpetuated through terms like “wilderness.”  Wilderness was repeatedly used as a means to justify land grabs.  If the American state asserted that the land was untamed wilderness, then the notion existed that the land was vacant and therefore could be clamed.  DeSoto’s body is draped in a blanket that features a rendering of the smallpox virus on the back, a clear reference to the colonial use of biological warfare against Indigenous peoples by giving them smallpox-infected blankets.”   Erin Joyce, Curator, Heard Museum, Phoenix, AZ.