The Portrait Gallery’s first-ever performance art series, IDENTIFY, focuses attention on activism, visibility, and experimentation in portraiture. This Saturday, January 16, artist James Luna will present Ishi: The Archive Performance, which pays tribute to the man known during his lifetime as the “last wild Indian.”
In my creative process in presenting live art, I have developed characters such as the ShameMan, Uncle Jimmy, and the Artifact to speak to issues affecting Native Americans globally.
I don’t set out specific goals as to the scenes. As I work, the concepts begin to roll on their own, and then I begin to add the details to make it an interesting presentation. This is not the process that happened with the Ishi piece.
One evening as I began to script at my kitchen table, I realized that many of these ideas, thoughts, and feelings were not mine but his. I had entered a spiritual space. There are moments when I have presented the performance that I do all I can not to become overwhelmed with emotions of sadness and loss to complete work. Then there comes the feeling of relief and accomplishment that I have shared an important story on behalf of the Native peoples of California and the phenomenal story of Ishi.
Luna’s performance will take place in the museum’s Great Hall at 4:00 p.m. Associate curator Dorothy Moss will introduce the performance. For more information, visit our website.
James Luna portrays Ishi (d. 1916), the last member of the Yahi—Native Americans indigenous to Northern California. Through his performance, Luna and Sheila Tishla Skinner not only pay tribute to Ishi but also give voice to indigenous women.
Support for the IDENTIFY performance art series has been provided by an anonymous donor, the Philip and Elizabeth Ryan Fund, the Director’s Visionary Fund, Carol and John Boochever and other individual contributions.
IMAGE: Ishi: "If I Could Only Tell You," Photo by Mark Velasquez.