First American Art Magazine No. 21, Winter 2018/19 - Page 84

BOOK REVIEWS what sets Honyouti apart from other contemporary Native artists is his willingness to criticize the shortcomings of Hopi communities themselves. “Honyouti’s carvings,” she writes, “are significant because they allow viewers to examine how a long-standing art form (carved representations of katsinas) can be turned to a modernistic critique of local Hopi and global concerns.” As this book elucidates, Honyouti had a lot to say about the local and the global through his carvings, and the many ideas they expressed are examined with skill and sensitivity by Pearlstone. This emerging portrait of Honyouti recognizes his deep attachment to Hopi culture and acknowledges how critically engaged he was with the issues of the world around him, an engagement expressed most fully through his commercial work. Pearlstone describes it as an often idiosyncratic “visual record” through which one may examine the impact of cultural changes on the Hopi as well as their connection to broader social, political, economic, and environmental issues. In that sense, she argues, Honyouti’s carvings have universal resonance. Honyouti grew up in Paaqavi, Third Mesa, the son of Clyde and Rachel Honyouti. Of the five children in the family, Brian was the only one born with albinism, the congenital absence of pigmentation or coloration of the skin. He was often taunted in his youth because of the condition, including being called names like Pahaana or “white boy.” This appears to have reinforced a sense of loneliness and difference, but the family chose to emphasize his albinism as a sign of strength and specialness. There is no question that it helped foster in Honyouti an independent, unconven- tional viewpoint. That viewpoint became apparent when he began producing katsina carvings for the marketplace in the 1970s. Katsinam are spirit beings responsible for the perpetuation of life among the Hopi. They appear in kiva and village ceremonies, personated by men, and carry out a number of different functions, from bringing clouds and rain to planting corn and reinforcing discipline among villagers. Some also bring tithu, the cottonwood-root carvings that depict katsinam, which are given to infants, young girls, and new brides. Honyouti made a point of distinguishing between these tithu, which are for ceremonial purposes, and the carvings he produced commercially. Although tithu constituted a large part of his output as a carver and were intended to faithfully represent Hopi katsinam for female relatives, his commercial carvings, because they were secular, became for him an opportunity to offer social and political commentary on the larger world. Pearlstone suggests on page nine that these carvings are best understood through the lens of Mary Louise Pratt’s “contact zone.” Pratt defines the term as “the space of colonial encounters” where geographically and historically separated groups come in contact with one another and interact, often through conflict or coercion. One outgrowth of the contact zone is transcul- turation, which, unlike acculturation, provides Indigenous peoples with the opportunity to create their own version of mainstream society. Pearlstone believes this is the basis for understanding Honyouti’s commercial carvings, which examine, through seriousness as well as humor, the complex interactions of Hopi and mainstream American culture. Pearlstone has wisely chosen a thematic approach to Honyouti’s work. Individual chapters consider portraits and personalizations, clowns, Hopi identity, the katsina world, humor, and commod- ification. Each chapter is amply illustrated with photos of carvings from museums and private collections. Together they reveal Honyouti’s intellectual and creative brilliance. In the chapter on portraits and personalizations, for example, the reader learns that Honyouti frequently included a personal dimension in his carvings by depicting dealers and collectors with whom he worked; self-portraits, sometimes as a trickster; or offered subtle commentary on his own family and their struggles. Pearlstone believes no other Hopi carver has included so many personal representations in their carvings. In Honyouti’s hands, the sculptures became a form of autobiography that enabled his audience to learn about his business associates and others with whom he worked as well as his family and himself. One particularly compelling chapter that encapsulates much of Honyouti’s 82 | WWW.FIRSTAMERICANARTMAGAZINE.COM thinking about Hopi and mainstream American culture is “Clowns as Couriers.” Hopi clowns use humor as social commentary to teach their audiences how to properly behave. This is done through mock improper behavior, which is directed at the people of the villages as well as outsiders. For Honyouti, clowning became the perfect means by which to critique both Hopi communities and mainstream American culture. He used the Koyaala, or Kosare, for example, to comment on covetousness, selfishness, greed, and misguided religion and politics that put money and power ahead of community needs or the protection of the environment. Koyaalam with watermelons, as examples of gluttony, became especially effective ways to critique excess. He explained, “These clowns have eaten up all the flesh—that is, the good or useful parts—and are left with the refuse such as home foreclosures, unemployment, bank failures, and political factionalism, distrust, and frustration.” They care only for “visceral satisfaction,” Pearlstone quotes Honyouti on page 82; “At both Hopi and on national stage, I see the obvious greed for political and financial control.” Honyouti’s carvings, whether serious or lighthearted, contain multiple meanings that are not necessarily obvious to his audience. He intentionally veiled his critical observations so as to not offend Hopis or potential buyers. Fortunately, t hroug h inter vie ws and candid correspondence with the artist before his death in 2016, in addition to interviews with associates and family members, Pearlstone has been able to reveal the messages embedded in his narratives. This is the first book to do so, and for that reason alone, it is an invaluable addition to the literature on Hopi katsina carvings. It also provides important insights into cultural change, both at Hopi and in mainstream America, and one artist’s deeply personal reactions to it. His voice was unique and powerful, as expressed in his work. That Pearlstone has been able to recover it so ably is worth noting, not only for its contributions to the field of Native art but also for its contributions to the legacy of this brilliant and creative artist of the contact zone. —Carter Jones Meyer, PhD