Baby and the Nacirema
This exhibition has two main threads running through it. The first is the narrative of Lewis & Clark and the second is an anthropological paper by Horace Miner.
The relationship Baby has to the landscape is heavily influenced by the “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema” that Horace Miner published in 1956 (American Anthropological Association). He states that the “[Nacirema] are a North American group living in the territory between the Canadian Cree, the Yaqui and Tarahumare of Mexico, and the Carib and Arawak of the Antilles. Little is known of their origin, although tradition states that they came from the east According to Nacirema mythology, their nation was originated by a culture hero, Notgnihsaw, who is otherwise known for two great feats of strength – the throwing of a piece of wampum across the river Pa-To- Mac and the chopping down of a cherry tree in which the Spirit of Truth resided.”
Miner’s paper was a playful but accurate description of the Nacirema culture. This work has been the basis of many other papers on the Nacirema. In a way, it has become a jazz standard for American sociologists and anthropologists to critique body obsession, environmental impact, Psychosis & psychology, educational systems, linguistic irregularity, religions, symbols and myths, Facebook & Internet usage, and even Canadian hockey. Body Ritual Among the Nacirema is frequently assigned to anthropology students to aid their ability to “Other” themselves- to be objective and critical. It enables institutional critique from the bottom-up through the use of wordplay and role inversions.
In 2011, Arcega and crew went on an expedition across the North American Continent. Inspired by the correspondence between Jefferson and Lewis & Clark, Arcega set forth to paint an updated picture of a North American people. In order to describe the iconography of the Nacirema, he uses the visual language of the Pacific to describe the Atlantic. There is a symbolic reversal of Manifest Destiny and Westward Expansion (Atlantic-centric)– a form of de-colonization occurs when we move from West to East, it acknowledges the past, but overwrites the bias through Eastward Compression.
For the exhibition at the Luggage Store, Arcega hand-made a collapsible Pacific outrigger canoe (Baby) as a medium for inter-cultural navigation. In addition, the show will include a sculptural diagram of language transference with boat models, an arrangement of cultural artifacts from the Nacirema (in the spirit of Lewis and Clark’s expedition), a Piñata mobile if important Nacireman icons, an array of miniature Nacireman inventions inspired by Japanese Netsuke, and an anthology of anthropological writings on the Nacirema.
Michael Arcega is an interdisciplinary artist based in San Francisco. He works primarily in sculpture and installation. Arcega holds a BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute and an MFA from Stanford University. His work has been exhibited at the M.H. deYoung Museum, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego, the Orange County Museum of Art, The Contemporary Museum in Honolulu, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. He is represented by Marx & Zavattero in San Francisco. Arcega was recently awarded a 2012 Guggenheim Fellowship in Fine Arts.