Sydney Lines, Tempe
February 17, 2017 – March 12, 2017
Tatanka: Spirit and Sacrifice
“The four leggeds came before the two leggeds. They are our older brother, we came from them. Before them, we were the root people. We came from them. We are the same thing. That is why we are spiritually related to them. We call them in our language ‘Tatanka,’ which means ‘He Who Owns Us.’ We cannot say that we own the buffalo because he owns us.”
Lakota elder, Birgil Kills Straight
Tatanka is the Lakota word for “buffalo,” or the American bison, which serves as a central part of the religious and cultural practices of the Great Plains Native Americans as well as many of their origin stories. In 2016, President Obama signed the National Bison Legacy Act, designating the bison as the national mammal and an iconic symbol of the United States beside the bald eagle. One month prior to the signing, the Standing Rock Dakota Access Pipeline protest began, raising the global visibility of the clash between Native tribalism and Western capitalism.
Native Americans and the American buffalo continue to share historical parallels and paradoxes, where they are simultaneously nearly exterminated by Western expansion while being culturally appropriated into American symbolism and mythmaking. In the late 19th century, Native Americans were herded into reservations at the same time that the U.S. military and European settlers launched an extermination campaign on the bison, reducing their numbers from 50 million to a small herd of less than 500 that found refuge in what is now Yellowstone National Park.
“If I could learn that every buffalo in the northern herd were killed I would be glad…The destruction of the herd would do more to keep Indians quiet than anything else that could happen.”
General Phillip S. Sheridan
Rachel (Goede) Srinivasan was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma and grew up in Omaha, Nebraska inspired and enchanted by the bison that roam the Great Plains. The sacred white buffalo in particular has served as her constant muse, a subject she often turns to in navigating tumultuous times. Rachel Srinivasan’s bison often occupy hybrid spaces both as sacred and natural animals. Her bison are simultaneously playful and mystical while supplanting and subverting Western iconography and canonical portraiture.
Rachel (Goede) Srinivasan