Thursday, March 5, 2020
Title: Extensions of the Self: A relational approach to body modification in Plains Indian traditions, past and present
Abstract: Painting and writing from Fort Union Trading Post, North Dakota in the 1830s, George Catlin greatly admired Plains Indian coifs, body paint, animal insignia, and other regalia, painstakingly describing each individual’s appearance. Contemporary descendants of those whom Catlin painted joyfully display these portraits as evidence of the ancestors’ might. Through portraits, photographs, and artifacts, this talk examines the ways in which animals, objects, and substances project extensions of the human self to assert individual persona, communicate with tangible and intangible beings, and build social networks across different worlds. It further scrutinizes the interplay between deep tradition and European-influenced innovation in ritually and socially charged body modifications, discusses the effects of Federal religious proscription on Indigenous appearance in the reservation period, and outlines efforts of contemporary communities to creatively reconnect with the materiality of self and society.