Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name


Organizational Unit

College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, Communication Studies

First Advisor

Kate Willink, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Bernadette Calafell

Third Advisor

Darrin Hicks


American Indian, Art, Discourse, Identity, Representation, Sovereignty


This study opens the door for a re-thinking of how discourse shapes American Indian representation and identity. As such, contemporary American Indian artist, Virgil Ortiz, his art, and the discourse surrounding both art and artist are examined to reveal the strategies and tactics employed in his constitution of a politics of representation that broaden the spectrum of considerations of American Indian identity. Critical invention is the orientation through which two methodological approaches are intertextually applied. A critical rhetorical approach is employed to analyze both the vernacular discourse produced by Ortiz and the dominant discourse constructed by the dominant culture. Sorrells (1999) theoretical and methodological approach to reading intercultural imagery is also applied to conduct a visual analysis of Ortiz’s art. To contextually frame an understanding of Ortiz and his work, a literature review and a historical chapter are included. The literature review details the linking of American Indian cultural identity, collective identity, and cultural sovereignty to the production of American Indian art; examines art and American Indian identity; and investigates art and the production of a politics of representation. The historical chapter reveals the poetics and politics of American Indian discursive constructions by both the dominant culture and American Indians.

The theme of sadomasochistic dominance and submission (SMDS) is explored in Ortiz’s art to understand how it communicatively operates through vernacular discourse. Ortiz’s marketing through branding and personal branding is analyzed to understand how Ortiz both subverts and complies with the dominant culture’s current entrenchment in commodity capitalism and in stale American Indian representations. The measure of representational sovereignty that Ortiz asserts is evident in the mediums and the media in which he participates. This study reveals that Ortiz produces a counter discourse that disturbs hegemonic notions of American Indians; promotes more prismatic considerations of American Indian identity, rather than one-dimensional stale stereotypes or two-dimensional restraining binaries; and offers alternative American Indian archetypes for consideration. Ortiz draws from the mainstream to the margins and the surface to the subterranean to create a politics of representation that promotes an understanding of multi-faceted, multi-dimensional, and multiple American Indian identity articulations, which move American Indians closer to signification self-sovereignty.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.

Rights Holder

Noell Ross Jackson


Received from ProQuest

File Format




File Size

297 p.


Communication, Native American studies, Ethnic studies