Look Now What I’ve Become

Joe Harjo

Exhibition: Sep 21 – Feb 28, 2023

A multidisciplinary artist, Harjo continues to expose the realities of Native culture in America. Look Now What I’ve Become aims to explore how language shapes societal perception and confronts the cultural manipulation of the terms “immigrant” and “native” within America’s complex relationship with citizenship, white nationalism, and colonization.  

The installation consists of painted plywood boards that create a two-sided sign that spans 10 feet high by 20 feet across. Each side of the sign is painted with latex and acrylic paint, with the word “IMMIGRANT” in bold red against a stark white background on one side and “NATIVE” on the other side. The color palette draws inspiration from the stripes on the American flag, symbolizing the original colonies. The vibrant red evokes thoughts of blood, while the pristine white embodies the concept of purity. Within the letters of each word is smaller text to create the messages: “Immigrant is an American Word” and “Native is a European Word,” respectively.  

The technique of incorporating terms within a larger word to form a recurrent phrase traces its origins back to Harjo’s experiences during his school days. In those formative years, he was  often tasked with the demanding punishment of repeatedly writing a sentence. However, after countless iterations, Harjo discovered that the words ceased to hold their intended significance. Instead of becoming more deeply ingrained, they transformed. What was once a simple exercise became more like creating a drawing than serving as a disciplinary task.  

Harjo utilizes methods of signage, such as size and high-contrast colors, to make the message impossible to avoid. The gravitational pull of the exhibit confronts the passersby with the presence of the “immigrant,” demanding that viewers acknowledge their multifaceted existence. By deliberately obscuring perspectives from both inside and outside the gallery, Harjo prompts the audience to contemplate the profound influence of language on our perceptions, deliberately highlighting its potential to create divisions. Furthering this message of duality is the method of making the artwork. Creating sentences within words generates a dual perspective within the piece, providing two distinct modes of viewing. When observed from a distance, the dominant words “native” and “immigrant” come to the forefront. Yet, upon closer examination, the complete sentence emerges. 

This installation is especially poignant as the United States continues to grapple with challenges of racial and ethnic discrimination despite many illusions of equality. Harjo told Artpace, “The subtleties of language can be used as a weapon to divide, and the use of complex terms such as “native” and “immigrant” play a role in influencing our perception of reality. This knowledge enhances our awareness, making it unavoidably evident.” 


Joe Harjo

San Antonio, Texas

Joe Harjo (b.1973 Oklahoma City, OK) is a multidisciplinary artist from the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma and is currently working and teaching in San Antonio, TX. He holds a BFA in Visual Arts from the University of Central Oklahoma and an MFA from the University of Texas at San Antonio.
His work uncovers the lack of visibility of Native culture, lived experience and identity in America, due to both the absence of proper representation in mainstream culture and the undermining of Native belief systems. He confronts the misrepresentation and appropriation of Native culture and identity, initiating a call for change.

Recent exhibitions include: Mutable Land, Nars Foundation Satellite Exhibition, Governor’s Island, New York, NY; High Visibility: On Location in Rural America and Indian Country, Plains Art Museum, Fargo, ND; The Only Certain Way, Sala Diaz, San Antonio, TX; Texas, We’re Listening, Brownsville Museum of Art, Brownsville, TX; We’re Still Here: Native American Artists Then and Now, McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, TX; Monarchs: Brown and Native Contemporary Artists in the Path of the Butterfly, Blue Star Contemporary, San Antonio, TX; Reimagining the Third Space, KCAI Crossroads Gallery: Center for Contemporary Practice, Kansas City, Missouri; re/thinking photography: Conceptual Photography from Texas, FotoFest, Houston, Texas.

Harjo has been selected for a Summer 2024 residency at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art in Omaha, and he is a 2022 Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture Resident Alumni, a 2020-2021 Harpo Foundation Native American Residency Fellow, and a 2023 Contemporary at Blue Star Berlin Resident Alumni hosted by Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Germany. His work has recently been acquired by the San Antonio Museum of Art and Texas A&M University at San Antonio.

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