Cultural Evolution

Evolution is constant, occurring tangentially – on the individual level, on a societal level, on specific cultural levels. Of course, the degree of evolution varies; in some cases occurring at an accelerated rate and in some cases barely evident.


Lately I’ve been thinking about the influence of technology on the evolution of individuals and larger systems; and in particular some of the incredible things expressed in the work of Native American artists. I have followed some of this evolution for over 5 years; primarily focusing my attention on visual (and occasionally performance) art.

I find this art in particular interesting because as far as cultural memory goes the impact of National “American” culture on specific tribal cultures is relatively recent. Historical atrocities are still spoken of from a first person perspective; there are many grandparents (and Tribal Elders in particular) who have directly experienced oppression of and violence against their tribal culture. And in turn, many contemporary artists who have absorbed an awareness of these cultural experiences hand-in-hand with their own daily social experiences (tribally specific and otherwise).

Almost all of us navigate between different culture and social groups in some capacity or other; but it is a less common experience to be caught in the confluence between a specific “sub-culture”, and that of the larger, main stream experience. And even less common to have the sub-culture’s expression present, experienced on a rich visceral level with song, dance, costume, daily rituals, sacred practices; customs that for many describe not only traditions but a large part of day to day existence.

Granted, I speak from an outsider’s perspective. I am not of tribal heritage, I have not spent a great deal of time observing or being part of any Native American cultural rituals (daily or otherwise). I write from the perspective of a distant observer. Nonetheless, I am drawn to the potency of the art produced by many Contemporary non-Traditional Native American Artists because there are many artists whose work powerfully describes (encapsulates even) some of the cultural experiences I am writing about. The confluence of experience; the overlap between a larger mainstream culture and that of a “sub-culture”; not only an attribute but one of the primary qualities informing much of this art.

And consider one of the most intriguing and powerful influences on the combination of these various cultural and social experiences: digital connectivity. Never before has information spread so quickly, rampantly. Individually we are empowered as we have never before been. And the things that some of these artists are doing with their empowerment are incredible. I was compelled to write this blog after becoming completely enamored with the music of “A Tribe Called Red” (ATCR)- shared with me by a good friend. I was blown away at first listen; I had never heard anything like this before. Learn more about the band and download their album for FREE here:

It reminded me a bit of the work of artist Nicolas Galanin, who produced these two pieces years ago:

Tsu Heidei Shugaxtutaan 1:

 Tsu Heidei Shugaxtutaan 2:

I first discovered these works back in 2009 and they are still some of my favorite. Many of the same things are occurring in these pieces as are in the work of ATCR; the confluence of tribal tradition and contemporary culture. And the expression of this amalgamation is finding voice with the technologies available; not just using digital technology to share but actually as the tool, the medium.

Incredible, and something I couldn’t resist writing about. Also, something occurring with many other artists and in many other places. To see more of what I’m talking about, check out the work of these artists:

Lisa Jackson’s piece “Savage”:

Bentley Spang’s Tekcno Pow-wow’s:

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