Frank Buffalo Hyde opened two major shows in Santa Fe early this season. See Shaman, a mystic painting of Captain Kangaroo at Tansey Contemporary for a perfect teaser. Buffalo Hyde’s is a pathway that includes Oscar Howe, Fritz Scholder, T.C. Cannon, Rick Bartow, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith and Norman Akers among others. He’s part of a tradition of parody in picture-making that starts with Hogarth, Goya, Daumier, and culminates in ironists like James Luna, Peter Saul, Bansky, etc. Frank Buffalo Hyde’s status makes his insights poignant, and pointed, like well-thrown spears, or sharp sticks. “I-Witness Culture” at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture skewers its intended targets, and raises prickly questions. He takes aim at the ubiquity of images and how they affect sight, and insight. In Buffalo Dancers Study (2016), glowing blue screens raised high intercede between the viewer and the dance, distancing one from the dancers, and creating a virtual ‘not-here-or-there’ space that unsettles. In this and other works Buffalo Hyde satirically captures the negative impacts of techno-tourism upon ceremony, and an unprecedented penchant for devices of distraction.
Transcending wit, and taking his viewers deeper into true pathos, his work Zombie Nation (2016) inspires comparisons to Turner’s Slave Ship or Goya’s Third of May, 1808 in its sheer ability to move sublimely between dark ironies and heart. The scene could be President Indian Killer’s Trail of Tears, the aftermath of the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890, or the state-ordered evacuation of the NO DAPL camp in early 2017. Deftly ambiguous figures stumble out of a tepee topped with a backwards US flag against a landscape of smoke or billowing clouds. The stripped skull closest to you grins and growls, as hideous as the corporate dinos of our weapons manufacture and fossil fuel industries (that just won’t die) and as deformed as all Americans—Natives and Immigrant —are as a result of 500 years of colonization and unacknowledged ethnic cleansing. You can’t reduce a population to three percent of its original numbers and not become maimed and monstrous. Monsters are us, through simple complicity, or active orange-head idiotics. Buffalo Hyde flips the meaning of “undead” as coyly as the bloody flag above, honors resistance, and darkly asserts Indigenous peoples’ resilience against horrific odds. Zombie Nation is a masterful indictment of a way of life that refuses to come to terms with its predatory appetites.