American Indian artist focuses on race riot
Tamara Browning: American Indian artist focuses on race riot
THE STATE JOURNAL-REGISTER
Posted Sep 25, 2008 @ 12:00 AM
American Indian visual and performance artist JAMES LUNA of San Diego
already had his multimedia installation show TALKING STONES in mind when
he was invited to participate in a citywide memorial exhibition.
Talking Stones is part of Through the Eyes of Artists: Looking Back,
Looking Forward, which notes the Springfield race riot of 1908.
For the most part, Lunas installation in the Visual Arts Gallery at the
University of Illinois at Springfield includes individual pillars that each
hold video players shining images up through cast-resin stones. Sounds emit
from audio equipment, giving the stones a voice.
Then OK, what would represent the riot portion? Luna recalls thinking
when putting his concept together.
The pillar that represents the race riot features a cast-resin brick
through which images of flames sear from below. Anguished sounds surround
Rather than a stone, I have a brick. Sort of represent the destruction.
Underneath it I have fire, says Luna, who is retired as an academic
The images arent supposed to necessarily look like something. This one
particularly looks like fire.
Talking Stones takes the idea that organic substances, such as stones, in
the right time and place transcend the world of utilitarian tools and
become that of objects that hold spiritual souls and speak of knowledge of
the other world, according to Luna.
American Indian and African myths say the stones of the mineral kingdom
are the oldest creations in the world. They know everything, according to
A Luiseno Indian who has lived on the La Jolla Indian Reservation, Luna
says talking stones are from his reservation.
Theyre not stones. Theyre grinding rocks. They are stones that have been
rendered to make them a tool, says Luna, 58.
These are also someones possession, like your toaster. It could be even
more than that because this would have taken a long time to work this shape
Luna says the rocks find him.
Theyre comforting to me to have them around my house. Theyre sort of
like having my family, Luna says.
Do I talk to them? No. Do I pray to them? No. But I do pray. Thats all
inclusive in it when you pray to the land, and this is part of it, and for
the people this is part of it.
The brick in the installation added a social commentary, says Luna, who
recently learned about the Springfield race riot.
Luna thinks that just like other places hes been to where there were
riots, Springfields were years in the making. The seething of white people
over the idea of black people having a successful community, the audacity
of blacks getting uppity and a black man marrying a white woman all were
things that were behind the riot, Luna says.
Luna connects the injustices blacks have suffered with those of American
Indians how they both can be viewed as expendable.
Its just a black person. Its just an Indian, Luna says.
Lets look at it. Lets look at the cruelty and the hatred and all this
other stuff thats behind it and just not sweep it under the rug and say,
Well, that happened.
Talking Stones, with INGRAM OBER, will be displayed through Oct. 22 in
the gallery in Room 201 of the Health and Sciences Building at UIS.
Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday. For more
information, visit www.uis.edu/visualarts, call 206-6506 or e-mail
Other exhibits in Through the Eyes of Artists: Looking Back, Looking
Forward are In 1908 ... by BRIAN GILLIS at the Abraham Lincoln
Presidential Library, 112 N. Sixth St., through Oct. 24; and Across the
Divide: Reconsidering the Other at the Illinois State Museum, 502 S.
Spring St., through Jan. 11.
Tamara Browning is a columnist and feature writer for The State
Journal-Register. She can be reached at 788-1534 or