Neon Kohkom, All the time, Everywhere Neon Kokhom 2015. Video, 1:50 mins.

Neon Kohkom, Jupiter Lightening PanIndian, 2014. Digital sketch.

Neon Kohkom, Rex-Hipster Headdress, 2014. Digital sketch.

Neon Kohkom, Baby Dactyl, 2014. Digital sketch.

Neon Kohkom, MNTY Samples, 2018. Interactive Installation with MNTY DJ Slipmat, various dimensions

One of the primary ways that people relax in the living room is through listening to music or watching TV. This Living Room is no different! Two works in the Living Room by multi-media artist Neon Kohkom consider the stereotypical pan-Indian representation of Indigenous people and the appropriation of Indigenous culture in Western media such as pop music, commercial imagery, and home videos. “Kokum” is the Cree word for grandmother.

As you move through the Living Room, or even as you view its contents while seated on the couch, you can hear the sound of gusting wind emanating from the flat screen TV mounted above the mantel piece. The TV plays a loop of some of Neon Kohkom’s media work: a road trip-style video artwork entitled All the time, Everywhere, as well as several digital sketches from a series called More Nativer Than You. All the time, Everywhere confronts the stereotypes of Pan-Indian-ness prominent in Western tourist culture and resource extraction industries. In this work, two figures with masks on – one of a giant eyeball and the other of an Eagle’s head – stand in front of various scenes that were filmed by Neon Kohkom as she drove across New Mexico. We see the Apache Canyon Trading Post with murals of a teepee and an “Indian” wearing a headdress painted on the white sand swept walls; a tourist giftshop, entrance flanked by two green aliens with big insectoid eyes standing out front; a wooden cutout of a teepee on a dusty road lined by a barbed-wire fence. The two masked figures wear t-shirts created by Vernon Ah Kee (of the Kuku Yalandji, Waanji, Yidinji, and Gugu Yimithirr peoples) that read “Aboriginal All the Time.” With this work, Neon Kohkom claims space and boldly interrupts false narratives and misrepresentations of “Indian-ness” with actual Indigenous bodies and contemporary realities.

The digital sketches from More Nativer Than You are Photoshopped images that layer found and created visual representations of stereotypes, myths, and appropriations of Indigenous culture. For example, Jupiter Lightning PanIndian is a mash-up image of a stereotypical shirtless “Plains Indian,” standing in a kayak in northern ice flow water, shooting an arrow toward the sky. In the water’s reflection, the kayak and the “Plains Indian” appear as a Northwest Coast totem pole eagle with arms spread wide. This scene is blended into an image of the planet Jupiter with electric purple lightening bolts shooting into the black expanse of space. In her artist statement, Neon Kohkom writes on this work, “This composition of various nations comments on the generalization of ‘Native Americans’ and how Indigenous nations are so often grouped together.” Rex-Hipster Headdress (a depiction of a Tyrannosaurus rex with an imitation headdress in its gaping, toothy mouth) and Baby Dactyl (an image of a Tatradactyl carrying a baby swaddled in a generic “Navajo style” blanket in a cradle board) create ironic compositions that highlight the ridiculous amalgamation of pseudo-mystical “Indian” symbolism and iconography with pop-commercial stylings. These sketches exist only as digital images on a screen in order to circumvent their consumption as commercial, collectable items, which is often the fate of Indigenous cultural objects.

On the wooden display cabinet set against the rear wall of the Living Room sits Neon Kohkom’s interactive sound piece MNTY Samples. MNTY Samples consists of a turntable and vinyl records that reference Indigenous music’s stereotyped existence in the popular imagination, but also its presence as a vibrant contemporary practice with a rich and complex tradition spanning thousands of years. Neon Kohkom has contributed an album to the Living Room’s collection: Cher’s 1971 best-selling “Greatest Hits,” featuring “Half breed” and “Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves.” She invites the Living Room’s guests to lend or donate albums to the collection that are either inappropriate for how they perpetuate stereotypes or the ways they exploit Indigenous music as a stylistic gimmick. Guests are also encouraged to add records by Indigenous artists that recognize and honour Indigenous brilliance. These projects exemplify Neon Kohkom’s dedication to exploring and denouncing harmful misrepresentations of Indigenous culture through sophisticated and ironic interventions.

– JH