Community Watch: David P. Bradley

David P. Bradley, American Indian Gothic, 1983, lithograph on paper, edition. MacKenzie Art Gallery, University of Regina Collection, gift of Mrs. Damaris D. W. Ethridge.

16 February 2022

This print is Chippewa artist David Bradley’s reinterpretation of the famous 1930 painting American Gothic, by American artist Grant Wood (1891–1942). Wood’s painting depicts a settler family during the interwar years. The man, pitchfork in hand, maintains direct eye contact with the viewers. The woman by his side, who is his daughter, has turned her head slightly and is gazing melancholically beyond the picture frame. In Bradley’s remake forty years later, the farmer and his daughter are replaced by a young Native-American couple; and in place of the farmers’ gable-roofed house is a Chippewan teepee.

The print was a part of the 1983 limited-edition portfolio Indian Self-Rule, produced in an edition of fifty by the Sun Valley Center, Idaho. Alongside those by Bradley, the portfolio featured prints from four other Indigenous artists: N. Scott Momaday, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Darren Vigil Gray, and R. Lee White. Profits from the original sale of the portfolio went to support the project Indian Self-Rule: Fifty Years Under the Indian Reorganization Act, by the Institute of the American West (1974–1984), in Idaho. The project—comprised of two publications, public radio and television broadcasts, and a major conference held in August 1983—was conceived as a study of Native-American people’s efforts in securing self-sufficiency, political self-rule, social and cultural self-determination, and religious freedom in the fifty years following the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 in the United States.

As a politically active artist, Bradley uses art—and other, adjacent venues—to speak about the appropriation and exploitation of Indigenous culture and art. His experience with the art market, particularly the Santa Fe Indian Market, propelled him to speak out against these prevalent issues that affect Native-American artists. Using humour and elements from pop culture, Bradley creates images that subvert and counter the mainstream Western art-historical narrative, which has historically excluded and exoticized Indigenous experience.

Tak Pham