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Magazine: Artist confronts challenge as 'Last Indian on Earth'






Photo from The Last American Indian On Earth

The Washington Post Magazine runs a feature on Gregg Deal, the artist behind The Last American Indian On Earth:
On a gray October morning, the Lincoln Memorial is teeming with tourists. Many are so intent on jockeying for a good spot to take a photo of the presidential statue, they seem to miss the 6-foot-4 man wearing a feathered headdress.

With a black handprint painted across his unsmiling face, he looks like a Native American caricature: black wool leggings bordered with fringe and a matching loincloth hanging from a belted loop. At times, he holds cardboard signs saying: “My Spirit Animal Is White Guilt” and “This Used to Be Indian Land But Everything Went to Crap.”

This is the fourth time Montclair artist Gregg Deal has brought his performance piece, “The Last American Indian on Earth,” to this well-trod spot. As the 38-year-old sits on the memorial steps and checks his iPhone, an invisible stage has been set. Deal waits for another character to start the action.

It doesn’t take long. A middle-aged blonde sits next to him and asks if her friend can take a picture. Deal obliges. Posing for photos is the most common request Deal gets. Many observers mistake his cliched costume for an authentic representation of an Indian; others assume he’s dressed to support Washington’s pro football team, an irony, because he objects to the name “Redskins.”

A silver-haired man enters the scene. Standing behind Deal, who doesn’t see him, the man raises his right palm with a playful smile, making sure the woman taking the photo gets him in the shot.

Moments later, when a reporter asks him why he posed that way, the man answers: “I thought that was the Indian greeting of ‘How.’ ” He gives his name and e-mail address but quickly ends his conversation when the reporter asks him what he does at the International Monetary Fund.

Unaware of the exchange, Deal has wandered to the sidewalk, where he is greeted by a bearded man in a black turban. As the man’s son snaps a photo of him with Deal, 58-year-old Amrik Singh Mudhar jokes: “One Indian to another.”

Deal chuckles and adds, “Columbus is blowing up somewhere.”

Get the Story:
‘Last American Indian’ finds challenges in performance art (The Washington Post Magazine 2/16)