2014 Face Negotiation

Galleri Hörnan, Falun
solo show
14 January - 22 February 2016

Student Union Gallery, Konstfack
solo show
18 - 21 November 2014


Integrated, oil, acrylic, wash, graphite on canvas, 145x114 cm, 2014

"Within our newly aquired possessions on the boarders of Mexico and the Pacific coast, and the recently organized territories in the interior of the continent, are numerous powerful and warlike tribes, of whom little is known, and whose history has no connection with that of the people of the United States, exept the fact that they were original occupants of the soil, and that some of them, especially the Californian Indians, yet dispute our right to sovereignty." Benson J. Lossing, "The Western Tribes", A Pictorial  History of the United States: For Schools and Families

The collapse of native americans culture and invasion of their land followed by their displacement and resettlement, functions as a core example in my authenticity negotiation and I compare it with other cultures or individuals who went (or go) through the same process. I focus among others on alienation and mutual cultural influences/similarities/differences, language restrictions/limitations/misunderstandings/power relations, identity change and xenophobia.

“Face negotiation” started with finding a story of Olive Oatman that I present in many versions depending on from whos perspective it is told. "In the early 1850s, Olive Oatman was a typical pioneer girl heading west on a wagon train full of Mormons in search of gold and God. By the end of the decade she was a white Indian with a chin tattoo, torn beteen two cultures." (Margot Mifflin. The Blue tattoo. The Life of Olive Oatman. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, c2009). I am not interested in the story itself but Oatman´s transformations between different cultures and the negotiation structures she has been exposed to deal with during and after her captivity. How did the tattoo effected her identity?  How this act has changed her authenticity? Could she go back to be a ”white woman” in a western society? Could she have developed a transcultural, hybrid identity?
"The greater fascination, however, lies in her unresolved duality. No American immigrants or captives have worn their hybrid identities so publicly."..."Oatman wore a permanent symbol of soul - searing transgression.She was, in the parlance of her day, "redeemed" as a captive, but there´s little redemption in her story. She was a half - finished woman who neither fully renounced the Mohaves nor settled back comfortably into white culture, which may explain why she contradicted herself: her affection for her Mohave family, for example, bleeds through the pages of her biography (Which includes long streches of first-person narrative) even as she disparages them, following Stratton´s virulently racist agenda."
..."the Mohaves, a once charismatic and idiosyncratic tribe - the largest in California - now vastly diminished and all but purged from national memory. In the mid-nineteenth century they, too, were hybrids of a sort, blending Southwest and Califormian traditions, such as face painting and tattoo, respectively, and straddling California and Arizona geographically, on either side of the Colorado River. An accidental ethnographer, Oatman recorded her momories of them in their last decade of sovereignty. Soon after she left them, they were forced off their land and pressed into a life of poverty; today only about a thousand survive."(Margot Mifflin. The Blue tattoo. The Life of Olive Oatman. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, c2009)
With the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, half of Mexico was swallowed up by the United States. For Californian Indians it meant genocide: between 1848 and 1865 an estimated fifteen thousand out of seventy two thousand Indians were killed in the Golden State. "A war of extermination will continue to be waged between the races", California´s first governor told the lagislature in 1851, "till the Indian race becomes extinc".
Olive Oatman "survived the botched pursuit of the American Dream, arrived at a geographical and utopian terminus- California - where, as Joan Didion famously put it, "we run out of continent". Then, reborn as a white Mohave, she turned around and went east again. Her blue tattoo bacome a poignant, permanent, ethnic marker, involving both cultural imprint of her Mohave past and the lingering scars of westward expansion."
(Margot Mifflin. The Blue tattoo. The Life of Olive Oatman. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, c2009)

I am interested in group dynamics and fixed structures, traditions, trust, loyalty, excluding, including and a sense of belonging. I investigate defense mecanisms and failure of an individual, a community or a whole nation.

The story of Olive Oatman. 

I present the story of Olive Oatman told over and over again, depending on who is it told by. "It is still told constantly around campfires, in college lectures, even radio programs", the paper asserted, perhaps a bit too promotionally, because this was the reason for telling it again - incorrectly." Oren Arnold, "The Wild West´s Favourite Indian Story", Galveston Daily News, May 21, 1943.

"For all its recycling, the only constant about the Oatman story is that no two authors agree on what happened. It´s as if the minute she stepped back into the white world and rinsed the mesquite dye from her hair, the truth was washed away and fiction would forever infest her biography." 
..."writers - amateur and proffesional, religious and scholary - continue to rework it, invariably reflecting their own cultural fantasies as vividly as Oatman´s particular experience. It was a sublect of a 1965 episode of
Death Valley Days (starring Ronald Reagan), an Elmore Leonard story, two novels, and four children books, including a Christian title sold with a collectible Oatman figurine (wort $ 695) - facial tattoo and all.
"Because the Mohaves have no written language, their impressions of Oatman´s captivity were not recorded during her liftime."

..."the fine points of Oatman´s transormation from forty-niner to white savage have been replayed in countless books and articles...In her day, Oatman was freakish enough to invite speculation and guarded enough to ensure that the speculation never ended. Because her story was saturated with violence, military inrigue, and sexual innuendo, it quickly became legend. " Margot Mifflin. The Blue tattoo. The Life of Olive Oatman. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, c2009.

- Version 1
- Version 2
- Version 3
- Version 4
- Version 5

During the presentation of the project at Konstfack 18-21 November 2014, I performed two performances including a "Integrated" manifesto and the act of face painting. In the nineteenth century, chin tattoos were common for tribal woman throughout California. In the Southwest, face and body painting was widespread, and tattooing was specific to the tribes of the lower Colorado River. The Mohave men and women practiced both.

"Integrated" - manifesto

- Welcome and thank you for coming.
- Now you belong to this community. Ohters are welcome too as guests.
- Our common language is English for all of those who use it as a second language. If it is your first language you should leave or remain quiet.
- We are now gathered in so called "white cube", or a gallery, or an exhibition space. You are part of this space (habitat) now. Hopefully you will be integrated.
- I would like to choose one of you to be my favourite member.
- Please share a drink with me which symbolizes celebration of something.

© Aleksandra Jarosz Laszlo 2020