James Luna

WS-James Luna, “Indian Lounge Suit” Rear, 1997
James Luna, in collaboration with The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia, Indian Lounge Suit (rear), 1997. Silk with rayon embroidery. 62 x 22 x 9 inches (157.48 x 55.88 x 22.86 cm). Edition of 2. Photo credit: Aaron Igler.

During his residency at FWM, Luna created a series of related works, centering on two costumes, made to fit the artist and for use in a performance or as elements of larger installations.

High-Tech War Shirt is fabricated from smoked hide and adorned with a range of symbolic, decorative elements: beaded medallions commissioned by Luna on the La Jolla Reservation; long filaments of horse hair, which specifically reference American Indian tradition; and a necklace made from a large shell encasing a plastic Sunbeam thermometer with plastic toys dangling from the rim. The back of the shirt is made from nylon netting, referencing the trendy sports clothing worn by athletes. The combination of traditional Indian objects and contemporary trinkets highlights the humor and irony that play a part in all Luna’s work.

Indian Lounge Suit is a flashy, tailored man’s suit made from wine-colored, sharkskin silk, the surface of which is smooth and iridescent. Luna wanted to recreate an ostentatious suit that might be worn by a shyster, something slick yet debonair like Jerry Lewis’ attire in The Nutty Professor. FWM worked with a professional embroiderer to stitch a rendition of James Earle Fraser’s famous image, End of the Trail (c. 1894), on the reverse of the jacket. Fraser’s bronze sculpture depicts an American Indian slumped forward on a weary horse, a strong visual rendering that introduced the stereotype of the noble, yet defeated Indian.

These costumes have been used in various installations, but have also been incorporated into the sequel to Luna’s well-known performance, Shameman. Each costume represents an opposite persona: the entertainer or con man of white popular culture, and the authentic spiritual man of American Indian culture. Taking on these personas and writing scripts with a great deal of humor, Luna address the complex nature of the contemporary Native American man.