NMAI’s T.C. Cannon Exhibit “Full of Exciting Surprises” – New Yorker

The National Museum of the American Indian’s newest exhibit – T.C. Cannon: At the Edge of America – opened last month.

T.C. Cannon was a Native multi-medium artist whose work in the 1960s and 1970s captured a unique perspective at a time when the country forced on his people was going through monumental changes, one of which — the Vietnam War — that he experienced personally. At the same time, he was also a member of the Caddo and Kiowa tribes while an enlisted soldier in the United States Army fighting the Vietcong in Vietnam. The same army that less than a century before that killed Native Americans, put down Native uprisings and forced survivors into reservations.

The exhibit features more than 80 of his works that include paintings, poetry and musical recordings. And even though he died in a 1978 car crash outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico, Cannon’s work resonates today. As an artist, Cannon tackled identity politics head-on through his use of Western art historical tropes through a Native perspective. His use of bold color combinations and his ability to pair Native and non-Native elements in his work is on display in the exhibit.

From Two Guns Arika and It’s Alright, Ma, I’m Only Sighing — a painting of one of Cannon’s favorite musicians, Bob Dylan — to Mama and Papa Have the Going Home Shiprock Blues (which is paired with a Dylan-esque song, “Shiprock Blues”, written by Cannon) to his drawing, On Drinkin’ Beer in Vietnam in 1967, the exhibit is an opportunity to see the world from the perspective of a groundbreaking, yet overlooked artist.  

The collection also features original poetry and music from Native artists that tackle Cannon’s contemporary legacy. T.C. Cannon: At the Edge of America is on display at the NMAI through September 16.

The National Museum of the American Indian is located at 1 Bowling Green in the Alexander Hamilton Customs House. It is open Fri-Wed from 10a-5p and 10a-8p on Thursday and is free to the public.