“Red Devil Savage”

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On a recent trip to Central NY, I visited an museum dedicated to Native Americans. We started with viewing prehistoric pieces, then moved into the Revolutionary War era, and on to Modern artifacts.

You can imagine my shock when I rounded a corner and saw this particular piece staring me in the face. It is officially titled “Red Devil Savage.” It was created in 1999 by Zenja Hyde. I can’t begin to pronounce or reproduce the names of her tribal affiliations. Somehow, she did it in acrylic medium.

You’d think I’d be offended. But I wasn’t. I was confused… until I read the backstory.

Zenja loves her people and does (or loved and did) protests to support their causes. Unfortunately, those who are non-Native (the museum’s words, but you could probably translate them as Anglos or Caucasians) can be mean spirited and downright cruel in their criticisms, resorting to name calling and judgments.

She choose to create a cartoon icon for herself. She took their words, made a comic, and on the unused spaces listed every cruel name under the sun she had been called.

She took those words meant to stop her in her tracks, to bind her in inaction, and she turned them into a light-hearted piece of art that brought her to a place of peace.

I wonder how many of us non-Natives could take cruelty and its related anger and pain and create something to make the world a brighter place.

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