Artist Feature: Steven Paul Judd’s Native Americana – Rachel Adler ’18

Judd will be visiting campus on Thursday November 16th, at 4:30pm-6pm in 2 McCosh Hall,

RSVP to the Facebook event here.


Photo by Shevaun Williams


Growing up, Steven Paul Judd couldn’t help but notice the dearth of Native Americans in pop culture. Judd is Kiowa and Choctaw, and grew up on reservations in Oklahoma and Mississippi. He also loves pop art, Star Wars, and the Incredible Hulk.

Judd strove to find media in which he could see himself and his experiences, but it was nowhere to be found. Native pop culture fans like Judd couldn’t find “a lunchbox or an action figure or a funny poster done with a Native kind of vibe to it.”

As he puts it, “I like my Native stuff, obviously, but I still like things that other people like. I live in the same world other people live in.” He turned to making visual art as an adult, hoping to fill the gap he perceived. He was looking for art to hang in his new apartment “and I really like pop art (Banksy, Andy Warhol) so I Googled ‘Native American pop art’ and I think at that time Bunky Echo Hawk was the only one who came up.” Undaunted, Judd decided to make the kind of art he “never got to see as a kid.”

His art casts Natives as the protagonists in their own narratives in a way that mainstream narratives have failed to do. In collaboration with graphic designer Dr. Elizabeth LaPensée Judd released a Native interpretation of the popular arcade game “Space Invaders,” in which you play as a Native American using a bow and arrow to defend themselves from an alien invasion.


This piece showcases several of the motifs which appear in Judd’s art: digital manipulation of 19th-century photographs, anachronism, and references to pop culture and history. The nuance and poignancy of Judd’s artwork is found in the dual understanding of mainstream pop culture and Native history: the game being referenced, “Space Invaders,” is characterized for its endless waves of alien invaders raining down on the player who futilely defends themselves from the barrage by which they will be inevitably overrun; the team of four Native archers playing this game of “Space Invaders” has reached a high score of 1491, the fateful year before the arrival of Columbus. This piece is imbued with the whimsy of playing games in the arcade as a child, chilled by a sense of foreboding.


For Judd, this project was a combination of his love of classic arcade-style games, and of his sly and poignant observations about Native American history and the ways in which Natives are perceived (or ignored) in modern culture: “You can read into it,” he explains, “someone is trying to invade where you are living, you know, peacefully. I tell people it’s the only time you’re allowed to play Indian and not get in trouble.” Works like this one speak to Judd’s ambition to “make cool stuff for Indians to have, and that gets white people to think.” The game, titled simply “Invaders,” is archetypal of Judd’s work, which provocatively combines the ongoing history of subjugation of Native Americans (especially the violation of land treaties) with the mundanity and ephemera of day-to-day life. Judd’s work challenges stereotypes about Native Americans and dehistoricizes the atrocities of the past.


Judd echoes the bright colors and dramatic portraits of pop artists like Andy Warhol, and his use of color-blocking in the foregrounded figure and intentionally runny spray paint in the background text is reminiscent of guerilla street artists like Banksy. (Source:


His dynamic, colorful pop art style and provocative subject matter has garnered comparisons to Andy Warhol. Judd embraces the comparison to the pop art icon, jokingly calling himself “the Native Andy Warrior-hol.” Judd sees art as a battlefield, and “any time you are using ink to further a social cause or a movement, it’s your war paint, the modern warrior’s war paint.” But Judd’s weapon of choice is laughter. He hopes his art can make people laugh, opening them up to learning more. At its core, though, his art is about Natives in the heart of pop culture: thus, Captain Native American, Siouxperman and Siouxperwoman, the Indigenous Hulk, and the Powwow Rangers.


Here the Incredible Hulk is swapped out for the Indigenous Hulk, a clever reimagining of the iconic Marvel character. In his version, the Hulk’s anger is incited by news of another broken treaty. The first major violation of a Native American land treaty came in 1830 with the passage of the Indian Removal Act. The Act was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, but was enacted anyway, leading to the deaths of thousands of Native Americans during a forced march. In 1871, the US Congress stopped recognizing the individual tribes, rendering all of the treaties which had been negotiated in the prior centuries moot. The loss of sovereignty was thus accompanied by the loss of their homes and their rights. In this imagined comic cover, the Indigenous Hulk is red instead of green, and his short hair is replaced by long braids. The year 1491 appears again in this work.


Judd’s work is whimsical and profound, drawing inspiration from Native American art, 19th-century photographs, pop artists like Warhol, and the wide world of movies, videogames, and comic books. Tying together elements of pop culture, like Captain America or the Operation game, with Native bodies and aesthetics, Judd makes space for Native stories within the dominant narrative.