In a response to the negative implications created by the 1981 movie Fort Apache, The Bronx, San Carlos Apache artist and owner/founder of Apache Skateboards Douglas Miles, Sr. was invited to the Bronx in 2009 to showcase his art forms as part of an art exhibit called “The Fort Apache Connection.”
The exhibit in the Bronx – curated by Nadema Agard and presented at Longwood Art Gallery at Hostos – was an exhibit that was the first to combine Native American artists and the community of Bronx.
In 2016, Miles returned to the Bronx to complete the Fort Apache The Bronx Mural, because it encapsulates the positive and negative aspects of two communities, the Fort Apache Indian Reservation, Arizona or Warm Springs Apache Nation, and Fort Apache, The Bronx or The Point CDC, South Bronx.
As a result of Miles’ efforts as well as curators, the community was blessed with the Fort Apache The Bronx Mural, community workshops and plenty of warm memories.
ICTMN had a chance to talk to Douglas Miles at his home in Arizona after completing the project.
Tell us about the community, the project and the mural.
Miles: There is a place in Arizona called #FortApache (an Apache community) and there is a place in the #SouthBronx New York City called the same. I wanted to discuss and honor two disparate communities that battled stereotypes, marginalization and forms of gentrification, displacement and forced removal by utilizing public street art and murals with respect to both “tribal” communities.
What was the response from the community there?
Miles: The response from people in the community was heart-felt, there were tears and hugs, there was love and a beautiful community feeling, kids of all ages participated, college kids came from Manhattan, from Harlem, cars were honking.
I wanted to show my respect for their community, for the Black, Puerto Rican and Hispanic people living there. Even though I was invited, I was questioned by some residents about why and what I was doing there. I felt that both the Apache and South Bronx communities were looked down on in negative and disparaging ways; we were both stereotyped and dispossessed. So I wanted to explore the positivity of the phrasing, Fort Apache The Bronx, to create something positive with the mural in their community. And something the community could in turn own and possess.
What are other similarities between these two communities?
Miles: These are both poor communities, both made up of people of color and we have a lot in common. My dad was from White Mountain Apache ( Fort Apache ) and Akimel O’odham, my mom and me from San Carlos. We have something like 75% unemployment and I’m a single parent now and I will never forget that, what that’s like for people. Sometimes Indian people forget we are all in it together, that we all face similar issues.
You have been quite vocal about the state of Native American Art today.
Miles: I think Native Art has been influenced by the Market system and artists tend to treat success as a matter of sales, attention and gimmickry and not in the Native sense of sharing that success and simple things like respect for others and being humble. A lot of art today has no politics, no serious content, other than making money and gaining prestige through gallery or museum shows. They don’t seem to care for anything except sales. There is a romanticism they aspire to yet seem content to leave the Rez behind. I think we need to stay connected to our communities, to share the Native way and be prepared for the next step, whatever that may be. We are selling art in the 21st century and you never know what’s next.
And what is next for you?
Miles: There’s a concurrent project with the Fort Apache Point CDC mural, “INDEH: A Story of the Apache Wars” with a book and skateboard release events. The planning for my show this fall at Columbia University; and the creation of a new mural in Queens NY/Welling Courts Murals. They are all important to me and we can discuss them as they happen.
And you will be at Indian Market this year as you usually are.
Miles: If you want to see what we are about, we will be at the Indigenous Fine Art Market – IFAM – at the Railyard in Santa Fe, New Mexico from August 18-20. We will be bringing it because Native Art is the Voice of Native People.
This statement is from the Douglas Miles video:
“I was invited to New York City to create work for the Point CDC, Hunts Point in the South Bronx. Douglas Miles and Apache Skateboards has worked with The Point CDC since 2009. This film is a brief glimpse into the work, travel and vibe in NYC. Filmed and directed by Douglas Miles on location in NYC with Douglas Miles JR.