The Artifact Piece @ James Luna. 1985-87. San Diego
- LUNA James, The Artifact Piece, 1985-1987 (1990 ?). San Diego, Musée de l’Homme.
– James Luna often uses his body as a means to critique the objectivation of Native American cultures in Western museum and cultural displays. He dramatically calls attention to the exhibition of Native American peoples and Native American cultural objects in his Artifact Piece, 1985-87. For the performance piece Luna donned a loincloth and lay motionless on a bed of sand in a glass museum exhibition case. Luna remained on exhibit for several days, among the Kumeyaay exhibits at the Museum of Man in San Diego. Labels surrounding the artist’s body identified his name and commented on the scars on his body, attributing them to « excessive drinking ». Two other cases in the exhibition contained Luna’s personal documents and ceremonial items from the Luisiño reservation.
– In his performances and installations, for the last three decades James Luna has engaged in a provocative and humorous way with the problems and issues facing contemporary Native Americans. Luna draws on personal observations and experiences for his artistic work. The artist has been living and working in La Jolla Reservation since 1975. For the performance The Artifact Piece, clad in a loincloth Luna reclined within a glass showcase filled with sand. Around him were testimonials of his life: his diploma, his divorce papers as well as personal objects and various mementos from his schooldays. Signs positioned within the showcase indicate his name, and comment on the scars on his body. The installation’s arrangement is reminiscent of dioramas typically used in ethnological museums for visualizing the life of extinct societies. By presenting himself as an artifact, as a lifeless object, Luna unmasks in a satirical way the one-sided and stereotypical presentation of Native Americans, as there are also presented in museums. Where confronted by the artist, the objectivizing viewpoint – which located Native American culture firmly in the past trivializing and romanticizing it as an extinct form of living – is revealed as an act of marginalization that persists to this day.