Poetry News

Natalie Diaz Outlines Visual Art's Power at Los Angeles Review of Books

By Harriet Staff

In her essay "A Lexicon of the Indigenous Body: Images of Autonomy and Desire" poet Natalie Diaz writes about visual art's ability to counteract misconceptions imposed on native peoples written in the language of their colonizers. "It is one of the most effective means of disrupting definitions and prescriptions of identity and goodness imposed on native peoples by the colonial empires of the Americas, both North and South. This disruption has sparked and maintained movements and revolutions for hundreds of years" Diaz explains. From there: 

Art is a mirror of the fractured world, a way of surveying the wound and assessing its scarring — it is also a mirror in which people recognize themselves, a tool to shatter the lens of invisibility a brown body has been asked to live under. To recognize an image or likeness of yourself in a poem or mural, to have your presence acknowledged, even celebrated, can awaken a pride and purpose large enough and contagious enough to supplant the gauntlet of shame forced upon tribal peoples by the systematic oppression of nationhood. Though Western academies have often tried to diminish our art by labeling it folk art or primitive art, street art or outsider art, political or incendiary art, no matter what they call it, they have not been able to deny its charge and beauty. The mural “For the Pride of your Hometown, the Way of the Elders, and in Memory of the Forgotten” by the Oaxacan artist collective Tlacolulokos, frees the indigenous body from the margins of Los Angeles history, from subservience to the conquistador, and places it back in the center, unapologetically, shamelessly, and with confidence, a long over due acknowledgment that we were always at the center. Tlakolulokos’s images anchor the city to its roots — the indigenous body was the first body, was the beginning, and the city cannot be separated from its indigenous peoples and the ways they thrive. 

Read more at Los Angeles Review of Books.

Originally Published: December 15th, 2017