Humor in Contemporary Native American Art

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Hend Ayari


Humor is a central feature of Native American culture as it manifests itself in various facets of tribal life. In the past, humor ensured the survival of tribes as it facilitated communication and built a stronger sense of kinship. The “Stoic Indians” stereotype gradually took over hence the supposedly Stoic Indians have been denied the right to access to today’s American “laughscape” (Rebecca Krefting). Traditionally, humor has been closely aligned with literature (satirical writings) or performance (comedic plays) but rarely with visual arts. Thus, the contribution of contemporary Native American visual artists is twofold: (1) to introduce and highlight the humor in visual arts and (2) to manipulate this strategy as a tool for cultural transmission and identity reclamation. In so doing, Native American artists, like any other ethnic and racial group, recognize the power of humor as a tool that brings people, regardless of their ethnic background, “to a militant edge” to use Vine Deloria’s term. Humor expressed through these artists’ creations serves as a repository for tackling issues related to the Native American experience and the whole country. In terms of methodology, an analysis of a selection of contemporary artwork by Native American artists such as Jim Denomie, Wendy Red Star and Tom Farris that combine features of satire, parody, and puns yields the conclusion that humor in visual art is commensurate with examples from the field of literature and performance. The other outcome of this examination is a humorous artistic attempt at breaking down the negative cultural stereotypes and participating in the re-invention of a resilient American Indian identity. Both aspects of this paper are rooted in ethnic humor studies.


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How to Cite
Ayari, Hend. 2023. “Humor in Contemporary Native American Art”. AMERICANA E-Journal of American Studies in Hungary 19 (1).
Author Biography

Hend Ayari, University of Debrecen

Hend Ayari is a PhD student in North American Studies in the Doctoral School of Literary and Cultural Studies at the University of Debrecen, Hungary. She does research on Native American literature, particularly the different aspects of identity and the representation of trauma in Native American non-fiction. She earned an MA in Cross-Cultural Poetics from the Higher Institute of Languages in Tunis and a second MA in Cultural Studies from the Faculty of Languages in Manouba. She worked as an EFL teacher from 2011 to June 2021 in Tunisia and received a Fulbright Teaching and Excellence Achievement (TEA) award at the University of Arkansas in 2020. Email: