Mopope, Game of Skill
- Stephen Mopope was among the Kiowa Six collective of Native artists who were active in the early 20th century. The group, based in Oklahoma, is best known for their paintings, typically on paper, of daily Native life in the region. Their “flatstyle” employed bold, unmodulated color and sharp contours in the depiction of single figures on a solid background.
- In Game of Skill, Mopope modifies the flatstyle by centering a vast landscape that recedes back into space. His figures are still made of flat, bright colors and distinct contours, but they are largely placed to the sides of the composition, allowing the expansive landscape of the Wichita Mountains of Oklahoma to dominate the scene.
- In the foreground, Mopope depicts a Kiowa encampment, with tipis dotting the landscape and community members gathered for a competitive game of skill. He made this work in response to a time of loss for the Kiowa and other tribes in the region, including the Apache and Comanche, with whom the Kiowa had shared hunting grounds and then a reservation established in 1867. Through the late 19th and early 20th century, the U.S. government had broken up these lands into allotments (equally-sized parcels given to individual Native families), thereby fragmenting the social fabric and lifeways of Native communities and increasing land available for development by non-Natives. Mopope’s scene serves as a reminder, a documentation of the Kiowa community’s long standing identity and history with this land.
- Mopope would have been familiar with this connection to the land from his own lived experience among the Kiowa. His act of documenting the historic relationship between the Kiowa and the land also reflects his lineage in the community. His great uncle Silver Horn was a Kiowa calendar keeper, a tribal historian who visually recorded the activities of the community throughout the year.
Read more about this work at the Gilcrease Museum.
Explore calendar drawings by Mopope’s great uncle and Kiowa calendar-keeper, Silver Horn in this resource from the Sam Noble Museum in Oklahoma.
Learn about Stephen Mopope’s WPA murals for the U.S. Post Office in Anadarko, Oklahoma.
Read more about the history of allotment of Native lands in Oklahoma in the late 19th and early 20th century from the Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture.
More to Think About
- By the time Mopope paints this picture, the Kiowa-Comanche-Apache reservation had been disestablished and broken up into allotments, and the Wichita Mountains had been established as a national forest. Who do you imagine the audience was for Mopope’s painting? Was there more than one? What message might it have communicated to various audiences, Native and non-Native?
- As a class, discuss your perspective on this question: do you see this painting as documenting the history of a community, an act of protest and resistance, or both? Why? Use evidence from the painting and the historical context of the painting and the Kiowa people to support your answers.