A panel from Red, Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas

a panel from Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas's Red

A Panel from Red, Digital print, 2008.

This panel is one part of the larger story that Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas tells of the Haida, the Indigenous people of the North Pacific Canadian islands of Haida Gwaii, in his 2014 manga, Red. This manga tells the story of a vengeful Haida leader who sets out to retrieve his sister after she has been kidnapped by pirates.

Manga is a Japanese form of storytelling that combines sequential images and text, similar to American comic books, and yet Yahgulanaas’s decision to frame Red as a manga instead of a comic book positions his Indigenous storytelling outside of the constraints of Western literary modes. Putting an additional spin on manga, Yahgulanaas invites readers of Red to tear out the pages of the book and piece them together to fashion the story as a tapestry. The resulting work is neither a comic book nor a manga, but a story that hearkens back to Indigenous artistic traditions.

The panel shown above is just one part of this larger tapestry, and on its own, it does not tell the full story of Red. Taking it in isolation raises a different set of questions about fragmentation and storytelling that is central to non-Western literary traditions. Narrative, art, and myth interweave in this panel to create the truth of an experience that has been destroyed and discarded by Western traditions. Yahgulanaas’s work celebrates the process of Indigenous people piecing this truth back together.

This process of racial reparation is also important within institutional environments. As activists and protestors have long noted, museums frequently crystallize racist and imperialist ideologies as truth within their representations of Indigenous people. The Decolonize This Place (DTP) activist/art collective, in particular, has pushed the American Museum of Natural History to acknowledge and begin redressing its legacies of colonialism. DTP has given “counter-tours” of the Museum, drawing attention to the white supremacist, settler-colonialist, and heteropatriarchal ideologies enshrined there, to create different truths from the objects of knowledge on display. After several years of protest, the AMNH has agreed to remove the statue of Teddy Roosevelt from its entrance, which activists have claimed is a potent symbol of the Museum’s white colonialist framing. This move signals the need for a larger, ongoing confrontation with knowledge-making about BIPOC throughout the AMNH and other institutions.

Written by Daniel Pfeiffer

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