Harry Fonseca, Two Coyotes with Flags
- 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.
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?