Ben Steele “Sioux Realism”
By Ehren E. Clark
Although Ben Steele’s “Sioux Realism” has an appearance that may look confounding, something beyond every convention, something transgressing every painterly norm, it is made an approachable work of art once the essential elements of structure and iconography are understood. One might stop short at calling it “visionary,” but it has a point to make and is a work of art to make one stop and reconsider.
Regarding the formal elements of the work before any meaningful understanding may be grasped, it is a striking compendium of most elements constituting a contemporary work of post-Modern art today. Steele has appropriated the very landmass of the United States and so many of its particulars of form serving his purposes in an entire recontextualization. This appropriation is the beginning of the fabric of iconography replicated for entirely new purposes from which a web of meaning has been built. In addition to the mass of land itself, the collage of iconographic elements and how they are contrived adds further layers, until reality we thought we knew as absolute has been deconstructed to the point of questioning the unequivocal reality of the present. Not quite visionary, but this is a way of thinking by which every American of every nationality should be impressed upon to consider.
The deconstruction process has at the most fundamental root taken the geography of the United States as is understood today, and presented a paradigm considering history that could have materialized alternatively. Steele presents such an alternate evolution given the maintaining of the land by the Native and the displacement of the new settlers and their subsequent generations. A symbolic rail leads to a place of “difference” that does not exist, represented by Mount Rushmore, a place of “otherness” where those new to this land did not conquer but moved in a hypothetical direction. This is signified by a fantastical non-extant reality, but the point has been made.
This point is driven home as the viewer sees further deconstructive evidence of a United States not of cities and suburbs but a North America where the teepee is the shelter of choice and preference. We recognize the reality implied by the contemporary neon sign pointing way to the “Dakota Lodge” with decorative towering buffalo, the skyscraper of this reality, and on the teepee is an electrical socket with cord plugged in, ostensibly a Native inside is researching the optimal conditions for the approaching harvest online while socially networking with like-minded for maximum utility.
Using formal allowances of post-Modernism as well as the structural elements of deconstruction, Steele is able to present what is a logical, even reasonable “what if?” to the current state of our nation, that those of us who are non-Natives, take so for granted. This interesting look into what “might have been” in all truth of “Sioux Realism,” is certainly reason to pause and reconsider what we hold as absolute.
Ben Steele “Sioux Realism”