Thursday, September 11, 2008

Outrage at SF Ocean Beach Art Installation "Thom Ross's Buffalo Bill and Indians on the Beach"

From Tony Gonzalez: (You can go to and search for photos and an article about this offensive display on public land which appeared in the Chronicle.)

After a week in Minneapolis helping cover the Republican National Con, broadcasting the politics from Indigenous unique point of view, (listen to reports on along with AIM leaders Clyde Bellecourt, Bill lMeans, and others including radio personalities from the Bay area Gabilan aka Miguel Molina, Dennis Bernstein, Evalina Molina, and Falcon, ie aka the crew, I also attended a ceremony and wake for a warrior, Steve Blake, AIM chapter president and organizer.

I returned to the Bay and yesterday I finally went out to the San Francisco Ocean Beach, at the end of Geary Street to offer tobacco and thanksgiving to the water world for my safe return. While there I saw this horrid exhibit "Thom Ross's Buffalo Bill & Indians on the Beach" on display from September 5 through Monday, September 15.

The brochure says there will be noted western historians in attendance on September 12, 13, and 14th! Actually I was informed by the artist there will be "Indians to bless the exhibit, a guy named Leonard something" but stopped short of saying who it is exactly or what day specifically it will take place, after he sensed my inquiry. The artist immediately shut me out of further communication and stone walled me.

This is no way to respond to pertinent questions regarding the display, the public, and a relationship with Indian community members. Frankly, I found the exhibition of 100 warrior figures on horses, as colorfull and impressive as it may seem, and led by buffalo bill cody and his 'wild west' show troupe, to be offensive, disturbing, insulting and just darn right culturally inappropriate! Not to mention the historical context or point of view; an outdated perpetuation of myths and oppression of the times. The artist himself has a bad attitude, is dressed in an unfriendly cowboy outfit, with a long jim bowie type knife on front of pants. If you haven't seen the exhibit I encourage you to take a look at racism in its fine sublime forms, subtle historical messaging, and oppressive overture.

I especially call on the artists in our communities to come forward and challenge the installation artist for his deliberate gestures, and for having included george custer and other notorious Indian killers who sought to exterminate our peoples, cultures, violated treaties, our economy, and yet this guy is making a profit from this by selling his figures on public lands, too!! This is intolerable and unacceptable!!

The Golden Gate National Area (GGNA) is responsible for issuing permits for use of these beaches. I suggest people also call Mr. Rich Wideman at 415-561-4300 to express concern and dismay over this matter. Or, Ms. Chris Power, publc affairs dept. 415-561-4732 at GGNA. Perhaps a community oversight advisory group can also be established to prevent this kind of community insensitivity.

In these times there is a more positive way of presenting Indian peoples, and their contributions to America. We have come a long way since 1902, and the wild west shows, or 1492 for that matter, to where the United Nations adopted just last September 13, the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

As a SF community based human rights organization, AIM-WEST, an affiliate of the American Indian Movement (AIM), I propose and because of the time left for this public display itself, an urgent call for a press conference tomorrow Friday morning, at the Ocean Beach display starting at 10 am and meet the press at 11 am. The exhibit cannot close without expressing our disgust. Our community representatives must also express their dissatisfaction with this type of exhibit, and to also link this with infamous racist mascot issues, particularly those in public schools, and in sports that are still prevalent in the USA, in an attempt to honor us?

Finally, and most importantly, the San Francisco Human Rights Commission is meeting TODAY!! This afternoon at 4:30 pm promptly, first item on the agenda is open for the public (they like to get that out the way first...!). At SF City Hall, room 416!!! Come and express three valuable minutes of your opinion.

And be prepared for the press conference manana!!! (tomorrow!) at the sunny ocean beach!!! La Playa!!

Please call me for more information.

Tony Gonzales



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I appreciate your passion. I don’t agree with what you wrote though. I never have been able to understand how someone can see racial indignity in something like this or other things that have no meaning on race whatsoever. If you spent more time getting to know the artist prior to demanding his time on the beach, you might not have written the article on the website. I’m not sure what exactly is offensive about the work and I’m sorry that you have pulled a racially negative depiction of Thom’s work. I personally know Thom and have admired his love for history and the passion he puts into his work. He has never once as long as I’ve known him had any negative opinion or view on any race whatsoever. I agree in racial equality yet think we need to lighten up on seeing some sort of hidden agenda by someone or some group. If you look hard enough you will find it. We all need to look at the strides we have made.

13/9/08 10:47  
Blogger Lorna Dee Cervantes said...

Hi, thanks for your comment. As it reads in the first sentence, I am not the author of the letter. Tony Gonzalez, a long-time activist who has worked with the United Nations to raise consciousness and change national policies against the rights and claims of indigenous peoples everywhere wrote it about this display on the public commons.

And I'm glad he did. Spirit works in many ways, one is through the Word - to implement change, to raises consciousness. I, too, found the piece disturbing and offensive. Imagine a life-size cardboard display of Hitler, Goebbels and the trainloads on Pacific Heights? Or Mussolini in Washington Square? Or a plantation tableau laid out in front of Yoshi's? You get my drift. As an indigenous person native to this Pacific (peaceful people's) coast and as an historian (History of Consciousness, UCSC) who has studied Cody's and "Buffalo Bill's" "Wild West" mentality and the affect it wrought, I was deeply disturbed, offended, and, yes, outraged; certainly saddened.

Why not a full-sized Ohlone village - in lieu of "and Indians" and sans the lion tamers?

And this, from a person who loves art, loves earth arts, loves public art, loves interactive arts, loves mural arts and is an artist from a family of artists. This isn't about the art.

13/9/08 12:19  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you people with your negative views on Thom Ross's interpretation of a HISTORICAL event are missing the point. I spent 9 out of 10 days on the beach and found 99.9% of the people awed by the installation. This is not a political view, nor do you GET Thom's passion AT ALL. It's people who want, for there own sake, to write bad things about people to somehow make themselves feel justified about their own tunnel vision view that has really nothing to do about the art.

oh well.....

15/9/08 23:39  

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