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“Our Indian Princess”

Subverting the Stereotype

Nancy Marie Mithlo

Are images and representations central to understanding Native Americans? How do Native artists, as producers of visual culture, respond to what art critic Lucy Lippard has called “the overwhelming burdens” of Indian art? In this pathbreaking study, anthropologist Nancy Marie Mithlo examines the power of stereotypes, the utility of pan-Indianism, the significance of realist ideologies, and the employment of alterity in Native American arts. Addressing the question of how visual referents communicate across cultural divides, she aims to deconstruct the common understanding of stereotypes and suggest that they may play a role in conveying otherness. By using concepts such as “strategic essentialism” and “conventional representations,” she analyzes the ways in which disparate groups employ damaged knowledges in trying to communicate their own values and those of contrasting groups, especially when other conceptual tools are unavailable..

2009. 208 pp., 16 figures, notes, 2 appendices, references, index, 6 x 9

Contributors: Nancy Marie Mithlo

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“[This book] routinely rethinks accepted understandings, offering brilliant new thinking on issues of great importance. It has much to teach a range of audiences about gender, art, power, representation, and contemporary Native America”
—C. Richard King, Washington State University

“[Mithlo] places the narratives of Native women artists in dialogue with theorists and highlights points of convergence and disparity between them. Thus she mobilizes Native women’s narratives as authoritative texts to achieve a necessary step toward reaching intellectual parity… Some ethnographers’ efforts to alternate between their own exegesis and the narratives of consultants result in jarring and disconnected texts. However, Mithlo successfully integrates her complex theoretical discussion with the artists’ own commentary.”
—Stephanie May de Montigny, Museum Anthropology Review, Spring–Fall 2011

“A series of testimonials from native women in the arts forms the basis for the Chiricahua Apache art historian’s evaluation of the scholarly literature surrounding notions of representation and identity through the Indian Princess. Mithlo’s interviews with seven female artists, compiled over a twenty-year period, provide the framework for analysis. In her study, she charts how these artists “express identity through cultural projections in the arts” as an avenue for understanding self-inscription…. This densely written text is full of surprises, as Mithlo packs each chapter with personal experiences, narratives, and a critical treatment of wide ranging scholarly sources to state her case. It all makes for a demanding, but worthwhile read.”
—Carmen L. Robertson, University of Regina


  1. “Imagine Trying to Convince the World You Exist”
  2. “They Never Liked the Dark Ones”: Exclusion, Conformity, and Restrictions
  3. Born an Artist
  4. “Art Stars” and Other “Honorary Whites”
  5. “They’ve Got It All Wrong”: Uses and Abuses of Indian Representations

There are no working papers for this book at the present time.