Humor, Parody, and Satire

Humor, Parody, and Satire highlights the artwork of two native artists, Tom Farris and Chris Olsewski. Take a look at the work and see what the artists have to say about the pieces.

"Part of the Native American Studies’ mission is to dispel stereotypes and I think that’s a big one- to show people that Indians are just as funny as anyone else. It’s a unique style of humor that comes from the historical, social, political experience, as most humor does. There is a wicked sense of humor in Native culture and there’s a lot of subversive, anti-European, anti-colonial, anti-U.S. government humor, but there’s also a lot of self-deprecating humor.” --Native American Studies Co-Director Dr. Stephen Criswell.

Tom Farris Artist Statement

"I am the child of American Indian art collectors and I have spent my entire life immersed in it. However, growing up, I hated it. As a rebellious twelve year old being dragged to yet ANOTHER art gallery on our family vacations, Indian art was the last thing that had my interest. I grew up idolizing comic book artists, hip hop artists and pop culture.

In time I learned to appreciate my culture and realized that with the right medium, my culture could be just as interesting and engaging. Thus began my art career, utilizing pop culture iconography to tell Native stories; using the familiar to teach the foreign.

My work starts with a concept, that little Indian culture wolf I’m dressing up in pop culture sheep’s clothing, that reels in the audience and surreptitiously deposits a nugget of truth. I find the best way to make the sometimes uncomfortable messages I’m attempting to convey palatable is with a candy coating of humor. I have found that because my work is funny, people want to engage with it and often come away with the intended message."

What’s In Your Wallet, 2018, Tom Farris

"This piece came about from a conversation I had explaining to someone what a CDIB (Certified Degree Indian Blood) card was. I found it odd that Native people are the only ethnicity that had to carry proof of “who they are”. The other party in the conversation was amazed to learn that this was something that still exists and I showed him my CDIB card. From that conversation I had the idea of what would it look like if every ethnicity was required to do this. I created corresponding ethnic identity cards for other races based on their historical tribal cultures in the hopes that people might realize how dehumanizing practices are still used today."

If Ya’ Don’t Know, Now Ya’ Know, 2019, Tom Farris

"I grew up a child of the 80’s/90’s and began a love affair with all things hip hop culture. I’ve always had such huge respect for graffiti artists, who risk punishment to express their art, which people generally deride, never mind appreciate. This piece fuses graffiti culture and Cherokee language and is a reference to a hip hop lyric. The Cherokees are one of the few tribes that have a written language, which is often revelatory to the audience, so the title is not only referential to hip hop culture, it’s also what I hope my work accomplishes – leaving the audience with new information – if ya’ don’t know, now ya’ know."

Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Roads, 2019, Tom Farris

"This piece came from the time travel plot of the Back to the Future movies. Imagining a late 1800’s ledger artist capturing his tribe’s interaction with a time traveling DeLorean on historical paper from that era was a fun concept to convey."

Colonize Like, 2019, Tom Farris

"This piece was inspired by the proliferation of “drive like your kids live here” signs in my neighborhood. Despite disliking their passive aggressive nature, I pondered their effort to put the driver in the home owner’s shoes. It the clicked that the same effort could be made of colonizers, basically treat people how you would like to be treated."

Tools of the Trade, 2020, Tom Farris

"The theme of the slot machine is “Manifest Destiny” and if you look closely, all the items on the reels are methods that were used to take land from Native people: whiskey, treaties, religion, westward expansion, the decimation of the bison, etc. The game itself is how tribes are taking their land back through tribal gaming. The nagging truth is that no one wins this game."

When the Sith Hits the Fan, 2019, Tom Farris

"This piece is my attempt to blend my Native culture and my love for Star Wars. I set out to make a fan that would be worthy of Darth Vadar, who is a Sith – hence the title of the piece. The light saber handle is all custom built from found objects."

Here’s Johnny!, 2019, Tom Farris

"I have always had a deep abiding love for Stanley Kubrick movies, especially The Shining. Whenever you’re forced to think of something terrifying, I always defer to scene where Jack Nicholson axes his way through a door and pronounces, “Here’s Johnny.” When creating a weapon, your intent is intimidation, so I couldn’t think of a more intimidating image to include!"

Ruckus, 2020, Tom Farris

"I first had the notion of the potential for utilizing Cherokee language as a visual medium when I was researching my very first tattoo. In the late 90’s Japanese kanji tattoos were the fashion of the day and in pondering my first tattoo design I mentioned this as a possibility, my father asked a somewhat obvious question, “why don’t you just get something in Cherokee?” This led to a light bulb moment and the search to translate my first word into Cherokee – Ruckus (a nickname/hip hop reference), which is phonetically pronounced “ah-s-di-yah.” This piece is inspired by that first tattoo, which led me on this crazy artistic cultural discovery."

Buffalo x 8, 2020, Tom Farris

"Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo is the longest grammatically correct sentence you can make in the English language using one word. Being that my middle name translates to Standing Buffalo in Otoe, the tricky sentence about fraudulent New York bison has always been a linguistic anomaly that I enjoy. Though with so much repetition you could see how the featured bison could easily be confused."

Tales From the Rez, 2020, Tom Farris

"Growing up the child of an over protective mother, I was told many stories designed to keep me safe. My favorite such “stranger danger” story I was told was that of Deer Woman, who was captivatingly beautiful and would lure men away from social events and because she was so beautiful, the men had never noticed that her feet were deer hooves and she would proceed to stomp them to death. Deer woman is one of those stories that every Indian kid heard growing up in Oklahoma, so it’s such a great cultural touch stone. I always thought the Deer Woman story would make such an amazing issue of an old EC horror comic, this is my imagining of that comic cover."

Christopher Olszewski Artist Statement

"I am a Board Certified, Low-Budget Mystic-aka-Self Appointed Mixed Race Messiah aka The Godson of Dr. Funkenstein, traveling through North America in my 1998 Cadillac DeVille. The vehicle is my avatar and exemplifies the spirit of the American Rustbelt and has a direct connection with my father and grandfather. Cadillac is a romantic symbol of American luxury, style and elegance, and the DeVille is one the last remaining vehicles assembled in Detroit (the Motor City), Michigan.

The Mobile Spiritual Renewal Center is self-contained project carried inside the vehicle. The project acts as a soft monument or a mobile message board to connect with the local populations I will encounter throughout my journey. In recent collaborative projects, I have constructed a Caution Tape Medicine Wheel around the DeVille where people can write messages on strips of colorful fabric. After a few hours, the “Caution Tape” is covered with favorable messages and the Medicine Wheel transforms from a relatively negative message (“caution”) to a positive bulletin board. When the journey is complete, the vinyl car cover(s) and caution tape will serve as the foundation for my visual exploration and used in professional gallery/museum exhibitions.

I encourage each individual with whom I come into contact to decorate, contemplate, make marks, draw, write and/or simply spend time with the project. At the beginning of the trek, the project is a blank canvas, and each mark, sticker, dent and repair serves as a testament to the rich cultural dialog of the journey. This project is the convergence of years of dedicated research into multicultural identity and the positioning of Native American artists in a contemporary context. It is also a means of transitioning my theories about cultural identity into a tangible body of work.

As a displaced Northerner living in the American South, I am finding connections to my Northern, post-industrial roots and the fragments that have led to the demise of the once-great modern industrial city of Detroit. This project is the fifth installment in my on-going investigation into cultural identity and the ever-changing contemporary landscape.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Special thanks to the Thomas Allen Davis Charitable Fund, Anthony Bagnoli for rebuilding the 4.6 liter Northstar and Gerald Olszewski for financial assistance."

Running with the Devil -Car Cover installed at the NASC spring 2020

Running with the Devil -Car Cover (detail), 2015, Christopher Olszewski, 16 x 24 feet,

Tiger, Christopher Olszewski, 16 x 24 feet,
They don’t know either, 2020, Christopher Olszewski
Rear Devil, 2020, Christopher Olszewski
Heaven, 2020, Christopher Olszewski
Problem Solver, 2019, Christopher Olszewski
Safety First, 2020, Christopher Olszewski
Step One, 2020, Christopher Olszewski
Self Portrait, 2020, Christopher Olszewski

Exhibit Staff:

  • Brittany Taylor-Driggers, Curator of Collections and Assistant Professor of Art
  • Dr. Stephen Criswell, Co-Director of NAS
  • Elisabeth Streeter, Special Projects Coordinator
  • Sam Farris, Gallery and Collections Assistant