A Third World experience

Blue Djinn exhibit depicts the misery, deprivation of Pine Ridge Reservation.

By Tanya Hartman, for The Kansas City Star

Published 11/14/2013

Artist Doc Snyder visited the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota in2007.

"Bad Medicine Wheel, " his current exhibition of serigraphs, sculptures and mixed media installations on display at Blue Djinn Gallery in the West Bottoms, which the artist opened in 2009, chronicles his complex reactions to what he witnessed there.

"It is the most desolate place that you can imagine, " he said. "It is like going into a Third World country, and it is hard to believe that this exists in the United States. I have been in ghettos. I understand what poverty is like. But they don't have fuel or water. I could go on and on, but I get very depressed."

Through his art, Snyder hopes to raise both awareness about and funding for the Oglala Lakota College and for the Red Cloud Indian School. The November opening intentionally corresponds to Native American History month.

In a culture that celebrates the ironic, it takes courage to make art that is earnest, but Snyder has done just that throughout this eclectic exhibition.

In "Strangers in a Sacred Land, " a diorama constructed by the artist with help from wife Jen Snyder, Greg Roberts and Glennys Lee, a painted blue sky moves down the gallery wall becoming a facsimile of rock, in front of which are miniature train tracks, prickly prairie grasses, tiny wagons, cowboys, rail workers, a herd of buffalo, hunters aiming rifles, carcasses and hides.

Though some of the elements displayed are handmade, many appear to have been taken directly from a kit for a model railway. The initial effect of this choice is to draw the viewer to the diorama, as to a window in a toy shop, only to shock them with the casual depiction of violence and wanton, thoughtless greed.

Buffalo skulls are in rows on the bed of a tiny wagon, while shoddy dwellings and barrels of beer besmirch the landscape.

The aftermath of insatiable expansion is explored in "Rez Shack, " a mixed-media installation made of corrugated turquoise metal wreathed in pebbles and empty beer cans.

The door to the dwelling is locked. The artist offers a small peephole, through which is seen a dispiriting interior consisting of a wrinkled flannel sheet on the floor, a bare desk and a small laptop computer with a black-and-white Western playing on a loop.

Next to the installation, a screen flashes images from the reservation and statistics about the poverty and obstacles that people encounter there.

The exhibition uses a variety of media to represent the spectrum of the American Indian experience.

The six serigraphs in the main gallery, each displayed in its own glass vitrine, draw upon native designs for inspiration, and though the color in each is intricate and lush, in aggregate they are a bit derivative and too general to be truly affecting.

The sculpture "Circles in the Sand" has a shiny, metallic surface that undercuts the intense sadness of the subject matter.

However, what is heartfelt and empathic in this exhibition makes a visit to Blue Djinn a worthy destination to view work that dares to be genuine and, at moments, profound.