Jimmie Durham

(b. 1940)

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(1940– )

American artist, political activist, and poet of Cherokee descent, born in Connecticut. He studied at the École des Beaux-Arts, Geneva, and lived for a time in Mexico. He now lives and works in Berlin. Before achieving his international reputation as an artist he was the director of the International Indian Treaty Council, which campaigned and negotiated for land rights. He has made works out of material stereotypically associated with Native Americans such as animal skulls but does so in a somewhat ironic manner which challenges assumptions about identity. For instance in his work of 1985 On Loan from the Museum of the American Indian he included items such a toothbrush and feathered underpants as well as an exhibit entitled ‘Types of Arrows’ with pedantically obvious labels such as ‘tiny’ and ‘wavy’. As well as this rather Conceptual kind of work, Durham has often achieved sculpture of great visual power sometimes with strikingly economical means. In the 1992 documenta a bent length of piping arising from a stream evoked the evolution of life from water to land. The Flower of the Death of Loneliness (2000, Saatchi Gallery, London) is a stone crashed into a broken mirror which reflects painted eyes. Lucy Lippard writes that ‘Durham sees the world through the eyes of Coyote—the trickster, the Native American embodiment of all that is base and godlike in humans.’

Further Reading

L. Lippard, ‘Jimmie Durham: postmodernist “savage”—Native American Artist’, Art in America (February 1993)

Subjects: Art.

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