Native American Artist Addresses Stereotypes through Live Painting

A performance artist visited campus this week to engage students, faculty and community members in discussions on cultural issues facing Native Americans - and he used their feedback to create a new painting during the event.

Bunky Echo-Hawk, a graduate of the Institute of American Indian Arts, asked the Willamette audience to share stories of their cultural concerns and experiences with stereotypes. As they talked, he transformed a blank canvas into a portrayal of the historical tensions between Indian people and white America, symbolized by a figure of General Custer "riding" an Indian.

In Custer's hand, a sign reads "Free Ride?" The words, chosen by the audience, reflect an idea that the U.S. has been built upon the backs of Indian people, while also referencing a public perception that Native Americans receive undeserved government handouts.

Echo-Hawk has created nearly 300 paintings live in front of audiences. He sees his work as a way to empower youths and correct stereotypes about Native Americans.

"It can set sparks off in people's minds, in people's hearts, and inspire them to want to look at these issues and do something about it," he says.

His painting will become part of the collection at Willamette's Hallie Ford Museum of Art.

Echo-Hawk's performance celebrated Founder's Day at Willamette and was part of the university's Indian Country Conversation Series, which brings Native American guests to campus for teaching and dialogue. Echo-Hawk also performed the next day at Chemawa Indian School in Salem, where he created a painting in dialogue with the entire student body.