Spears (2005). Re-Constructing the Colonizer: Self-representation by First Nations Artists.

Spears, S. (2005). Re-Constructing the Colonizer: Self-representation by First Nations Artists. Atlantis: Critical Studies in Gender, Culture & Social Justice, 29(2), 125–137.
“[Roland Barthes] stated that ‘a myth is a story by which a culture explains or understands some aspect of reality or nature.’ … This mythology is so strong that a colonizer can walk past thirty Native people on the street, and only see the one who is passed out on the sidewalk, because that one Native person confirms the colonial myth-system. If a Native person happened to go by in a canoe, dressed in buckskin, that one would probably be recognized as well.” (p 127)
[“The Colonial Gaze and Indigenous Identity” …]
“Our artistic work is created around an obstacle course of colonial misunderstandings, cultural protocol, ethical concerns, community lateral violence and funding categories which sometimes attempt to determine the ‘Aboriginalness’ of the work.” (p 128)
“The Indian, as seen through the colonial gaze, is accepted as authentic, without question, by many Canadians. … This quality of information as a resource is referred to as its ‘frictionless substitutability’ [Ruggles, 2002]. With access to better-quality information, they might choose to question their assumptions about Indigenous people. Of course, ‘this act of `ideological labor` requires real effort,’ [Wood] and many colonizers find it more pleasurable to repeat and confirm their more familiar ideas.” (p 128)
[“Examining Mythologies and Ideological Positioning” …]
“Because photographs, for example, are representations of real human beings, it is possible to believe that we are looking at the truth about an actual person, when in fact we are looking at an image divorced from its history, construction and/or editing process.” (p 129)
[“The Canadian Colonial Gaze” …]
“Colonial mythology also allows colonizers to feel that they are more intelligent, deserving, hard-working, loving, enlightened and civilized than any other group of people on the planet.” (p 130)
[“The Work of Myth-Makers” …]
“Images also use ‘modes of address’ [Kress & Leeuwen, 1998] which approximate human interaction. Certain types of eye contact, which violate ‘socially regulated’ codes of looking, lead to ‘depersonalization of the victim….’ [Goffman, 1969] ‘When photographs simulate this kind of social violation, through `apparent proximity,` [Hall, 1966] a similar dehumanization occurs.'” (p 131)
[“The Deep Roots of the Gaze” …]
“Michel Foucault theorized that Europeans began classifying and separating ‘others’ through models originally developed to deal with illness. In his study of the panoptic model of surveillance, he traced the roots of modern institutions through the late 17th-century plague model (quarantine) and response to leprosy (banishment) [1979]. According to Foucault, documentation, surveillance and other institutional systems were originally used in prisons, spreading into hospitals, government and schools, so that, as he said, ‘at the heart of all disciplinary systems functions a small penal mechanism’ [1979].” (p 132)
“Accepting the dominant view of Indigenous people brings an emotional reward for colonizers, but a new set of rewards may be possible by giving the colonial viewer a chance to identify him/herself in alternate ways. By interpellating the viewer differently (i.e., inviting the viewer to occupy the subject position of ‘friend’), artists can create a situation in which colonizers can identify with the colonized. The colonizer can feel pleasurably rewarded for identifying with the experience of Indigenous people as fellow human beings.” (p 133)
[“Humour, Sex and White People Laughing” …]

Selected References

  • Barthes, R. (1973). Mythologies. London: Granada Publishing Ltd.
  • Foucault, M. (1979) Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Vintage Books.
  • Goffman, E. (1969). Behavior in Public Places: Notes on the Social Organization of Gathering. New York: Free Press.
  • Hall, E. T. (1966). The Hidden Dimension: Man’s Use of Space in Public and Private. London: Bodley Head.
  • Kress, G. & van Leeuwen, T. (1998). “Front Pages: (The Critical) Analysis of Newspaper Layout.” In Bell, Allan and Garrett, Peter, (eds.) Approaches to Media Discourse. Oxford: Blackwell, cited in Chandler, ibid.
  • Ruggles, M. (2002). Automating Interactions: Economic Reason and Social Capital in Addressable Networks. Hampton Press: Cresskill, New Jersey. Hampton Communication Series.
  • Wood, A. “Chapter Two: Viewers Make Meaning,” Comm 171, Visual Communication. San Jose State University: San Jose, CA. website: http://www2.sjsu.edu/faculty/wooda/171/171syllabus4chapter2.html. Accessed 02/24/2004.


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