In memory of James Luna we are exploring doing a tribute tour in memory of James, his work and his impact on the Native community.

James Luna (Puyukitchum/Luiseno) is perhaps one of the most recognized and acclaimed Native artists in the world with a body of work that stretches over 40 years.  He has won dozens of prestigious awards including Painters & Sculptors Grant from the Joan Mitchell Foundation, Distinguished Artist Award and the Eiteljorg Museum Fellowship for Native American Fine Art from Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art in 2007, US/Japan Creative Artist Exchange Fellowship, from the Japan-US Friendship Commission, the Performing Arts/Emerging Fields production grant from Creative Capital and the Andrea Frank Foundation grant.  


He received media arts grants from the Native American Public Broadcasting Consortium for the production of Bringing It All Back Home in 1995 and a Rockefeller Foundation Intercultural Film/Video Grant of for the production of The History of the Luiseno People-Christmas 1990.  In 2005, he was selected as the first Sponsored Artist of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian presented at the Venice Biennale’s 51st International Art Exhibition in Venice, Italy. In 2012 James was awarded Honorary Doctorate of Humanities from the Institute of American Indian Arts, Santa Fe, NM.  Most recently the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship and The Holt Visiting Artist grant at Stanford University.

Through is body of work, Luna given voice to Native American cultural issues, pursued innovative and versatile media within his disciplines, and charted waters for other artists to follow.  His art and performance transforms gallery spaces into battlefields, where the audience is confronted with the nature of cultural identity, the tensions generated by cultural isolation, and the dangers of cultural misinterpretations, all from an Indigenous perspective.  Luna lives on the La Jolla Indian Reservation north of San Diego, California. 


In 1911, an Indian man walked into the small northern California town of Oroville. His sudden appearance inspired fright, laughter, and pity from the populace. The civic leaders had the foresight to contact an anthropologist who came to the conclusion that Ishi indeed was the last of his tribe. It was decided that for his welfare and for the advancement of science that he would occupy the Museum on the University of California Berkeley’s campus, where he lived out his remaining years as a living specimen. 

The archives suggest there is more to this story, which has never been told. Believing that the story of Ishi is one that should be remembered and hold an important place in the history and cultures of California and that there is much to learn from him and his plight. Mr. Luna has created a performance that explores this significant life. Many questions about Ishi’s experience, both mysterious and uncomfortable are evoked by this performance. 

On some questions Ishi remained silent, perhaps because of language barriers (as no one could completely translate his language) and so there are many questions remain which only he could have answered. Perhaps he could have but chose not to, an “ole Indian” trick? In any event Ishi’s story remains as a grim reminder of Western fascination with Indigenous cultures and its detrimental disregard of humans, forgetting that we are all sentient beings. 

James believes that the Ishi performance has manifested itself at this time in his life, but it’s been waiting inside him for years and has now made its appearance with a vengeance! He rates this new work with his much-lauded “Artifact Piece”. As in life, Art matters have come full circle.

Walrus Arts Management and Consulting, LLC

Exceptional Contemporary Indigenous Performance

Andre Bouchard, Principal | Email: | Cell:  267-253-1033

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