David Estrada was referred to me with only a mention that he had done some art involving the "American Indians." Patterned into assuming he painted scenarios of Native American life––perhaps sleepy villages at river front edges or portraits of dark skinned natives wearing feather headdresses, I searched him out on his website but found something entirely different. And when I finally met David, I was further enlightened, especially after I realized I'd made a few stereotypical assumptions about Native Americans which, in essence, happened to be the crux of his art––or shall I say, his political art (for the sake of definition, political art offers a perspective––direct or indirect––on social relations).
Sunday morning: I didn't meet David in North Hollywood where, by all rights, a working father of two would've been sleeping in if not for our interview, but in the studio space he rents at an art co-op located in an industrialized area of Glendale. Finding him was not a problem for all I had to do was follow the jazz music emanating from inside. A cropped-haired man dressed in a white t-shirt and Wayfarer-style eyeglasses greeted me in the lobby of the building, which was covered wall to wall with the landlord's display of miniature clay heads. Those heads equally lined the stair's wall and up into the open space of the second floor where David had laid out his most current mixed media project––something called FOLLOW––which he said was a reaction to Shepard Fairey and his alleged plagiarism of other people's images (seems the guy never formally credits the originators).
Follow by David Estrada
Well, I knew who Fairey was, but I felt I needed a translation of the black outlined face and white-washed background before me. David explained the irony behind the piece––literally behind the white, that is––original vintage cartoons and photographs placed next to Fairey's stickers of the same, but stolen imagery, and all with an order to OBEY. Thus, David's reaction to “follow.”
But I wanted to know more about his Native American work. As it turns out, David is half Native American himself, but the honor and respect he has for that part of his heritage is huge and very likely the motivation behind his innate sensitivity to political issues often unnoticed by the most politically correct of us. And it all began with his interest in sports teams and their mascots––specifically racistly-named ones like The Washington Redskins or closer to home as in The Indians, depicted in David's triptyc of Burbank's John Burrough's High School.
Photo of John Burroughs H.S. exterior. (note the Jeep Cherokee)
Burrough's H.S. was built in the 20s, according to Wikipedia, and further Googling revealed that the school indeed incorporated an American Indian theme, namely for one of their sports teams, the Chieftains, during the 50s. Currently, any usage of Native American folklore has been reduced to a single feather in the school's logo––a little less offensive, but offensive all the same. Using these imageries was wrong then, but even more wrong now, according to David and many people who support the elimination of ethnic stereotyping.
High School Confidential #1 by David Estrada
In the case of Native Americans, usage of their historical imagery makes one think they are not real, a myth, or something that no longer exists––a dead culture. Moreover, it's a lack of respect. A good example, David gave, is the use of the infamous feathered headdress for purposes of costume entertainment. In Native American culture, each of those feathers are earned by the one who wears them. It would be like you or I donning a shtreimel, a fur hat worn by married Jewish men, particularly members of Hasidic groups, and expecting that to be ok with those of the Jewish faith. Why, this ethnic stereotyping goes as far back as the 19th century minstrel shows when they featured blackfaced actors on stage and thought that was ok.
High School Confidential #2 by David Estrada
But back to David's John Burrough's triptyc, called High School Confidential. The three images clearly are a statement to this fact and asks what would it be like if a high school banner endorsed a Jewish profile or an African American's as its mascot imagery? Or worse, could you imagine the repercussions if any Islamic symbolism were used? You see––wrong.
High School Confidential #3 by David Estrada
David Estrada's political art doesn't rub anything in anyone's faces, but it does make ya think.
Ultimately, he only wants us to be more aware and informed for no ignorance is bliss. And once we understand, it's up to us to decide what to do with the information. Personally, I would like to thank David for helping open my eyes a little bit wider. As for the rest of you, you may consider thanking him too, or better yet, show your support by liking him on his Facebook page.