In the phICA shipping containers on Roosevelt Row, Rhetorical Galleries presents the artwork of Jacob Meders (Maidu, Mechoopda) in his latest exhibition, Too Many Capitalists, Not Enough Indians. Meders uses the exhibition to connect the consequences from the rise of capitalism that have followed the Native Americans into present-day, such as the abuse of sacred lands, poverty and discrimination. He also probes into the broader context of assimilation and identity within the Native population, by showing repetitious images of the strong and silent Indian Chief to confront stereotypical notions that are still prevalent today. Although these are heavy subjects, Meders uses this small space to highlight large complex issues while simultaneously being tongue-in-cheek, using interactive elements to diffuse the tense mood.
Using an antique letterpress, the entire shipping container is covered in prints which bear the exhibition's namesake. As a play on the saying “too many chiefs and not enough indians” Meders points out that even though the Native American community has leaders, the emphasis on control and the fight for resources has led to the neglect of issues that need healing. Oftentimes, tribal problems are seen as quiet background noise that receives little attention compared to other communities. Most recently, this can be seen in the disparity of media coverage and national attention given to Flint Michigan when the city’s water became polluted with lead. An estimated 75% of abandoned uranium mines are located on Navajo tribal lands (27,000 square miles) and for several decades radioactive pollution has leeched into drinking water. The EPA’s website states “Potential health effects include lung cancer from inhalation of radioactive particles, as well as bone cancer and impaired kidney function from exposure to radionuclides in drinking water.” Meders uses red white and blue throughout the exhibition highlighting the disconnect that these communities face when dealing with the “outside” world and the difficult relationship with the government that is largely responsible for the problems faced.
Too Many Capitalists, Not Enough Indians cleverly shows the economic system of capitalism in action. A newspaper vending machine sits in the middle of the shipping container that holds Meders signed letterpress prints. The buyer cannot simply hand the money over, they have to painstakingly enter the amount of money in quarters to open the machine and retrieve the print. By completing this action, it becomes clear that they are now engaging in the process. The image is the same figure depicted on the walls, and the identical qualities of the prints mimics the origin of capitalism through mass production. The use of the Native American profile also examines the general ideas that were perpetuated to the masses about Native American image and culture and projected on the the indigenous people. Movies and literature from the past and present depict one single chief, although tribes did not adhere to the european idea of royalty, and for the most part did not have a formal hierarchy. Meders uses the exhibition as a challenge to examine where ideas of the Native American image came from, and how the historical racist meanings behind the image are have become socially acceptable through years of perpetuation.
Too Many Capitalists, Not Enough Indians addresses the issues that are faced by all indigenous peoples in the United States, even though Meders belongs to the Mechoopda tribe. Meder points out that if people approached issues as the stewarts and cherish the land, much more could be accomplished. Although the exhibition utilizes repetition and the space is small, it scratches the surface of issues that beg to be examined closer and kick starts the conversation into broader discussions.