Harry Fonseca, Two Coyotes with Flags

Harry Fonseca, Two Coyotes with Flags, acrylic on canvas (Gilcrease Museum) © Estate of Harry Fonseca


Harry Fonseca, Two Coyotes with Flags

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Key Points

  • Fonseca’s large painting of two coyotes draped in the American flag addresses issues of Indigenous identity and stereotypes in American popular culture. The coyotes wear war bonnets and hold tomahawks, reinforcing common assumptions of homogeneity across Native communities. The draped flag serves to conflate and confuse the distinctions between Native and “national” American identity. And, in these and other details–such as the coyote’s shoes–Fonseca also references his own layered identity as Native, a U.S. Navy veteran, and a queer man. 
  • The Pop Art style of the painting bolsters Fonseca’s allusion to the assumptions and overly-simplified perceptions about Native Americans within the nation’s popular imagination. The bold, artificial colors and cartoonish representation of the figures appear performative–merely for show–rather than authentic. Furthermore, the coyotes are to be understood as representing the trickster figure, a clever, shape-shifting character in various Native traditions whose antics are meant to fool, or misrepresent a deeper truth or identity. Fonseca portrays the trickster–often autobiographically–in many of his paintings. 
  • Fonseca plays on a history of this kind of homogenized and staged representation of Native Americans, most notably reflected in the 19th century photographs of Edward Curtis, in order to remind viewers that these stereotypes have persisted and are pernicious for both non-Native and Native culture. 

Go Deeper

This painting at the Gilcrease Museum

Learn about another Fonseca painting, Creation Story, held in the collection of the National Museum of the American Indian

Read more about Fonseca’s use of the coyote in “How the Character of Coyote Helped Artist Harry Fonseca Come Out, by Amy Scott, Executive Vice President and Marilyn B. and Calvin B. Gross Curator of Visual Arts at the Autry Museum of the American West

Review the United States Flag Code, from the American Legion

More to think about

How do you see Fonseca’s pop art style reinforcing your personal understanding of stereotyping and misrepresentation?  

What other stereotypes of Native American identity are you aware of or can you identify? How can you actively challenge these stereotypes?

If you are non-Native, are there homogenizing stereotypes of the culture with which you identify? How do these stereotypes appear and how can you challenge them or invite others to do so?


Note: discussing cultural stereotypes may be triggering for some learners, who may choose not to participate in this discussion or may prefer to write or share independently about their ideas rather than as part of a group. It is important to provide options for learners to address these questions in ways that feel most appropriate to them.

Explore the diverse history of the United States through its art. Seeing America is funded by the Terra Foundation for American Art and the Alice L. Walton Foundation.