Lower right quadrant. Seated. Holding a small, black, rectangular object at about eye level.See him?It's not clear exactly who this man is, but he might as well be popping off a selfie or thumbing through his news feed. He seems to gaze into the handheld device in such a way that renders all-too-familiar today, as if he's just read a bad tweet or recoiling from a Trump-related push notification from the Times. He would almost look unremarkable, if only he and the world around him existed at any point in the past decade.
In this view, it could be said Indigenous peoples, who likely used the image-reflective properties of pools of water as needed before Europeans showed up, turned the colonialist notion of mirrors inside out.But even then, we could still be looking at a rendering of the very moment that foreign technology first bewitched one individual.
For Native Americans, mirrors were symbols of wealth and prestige. They were commonly mounted in dance batons or other objects of ceremonial regalia, since it was their light-reflective property, not their ability to reflect images, that was considered important.
Another possible theory extends the idea of an outside, potentially corrupting influence. If not a mirror, what the man holds might be a pocket-sized edition of a religious text, Crown said. "One of the gospels or maybe Psalms," he added. "These did exist at the time and were roughly the same rectangular shape."Dr. Margaret Bruchac, Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Coordinator of the Native American & Indigenous Studies Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania, offered yet another theory. According to her, it's likely the object is in fact an iron blade, with the sharp edge rested against the man's palm.Then again, Bruchac highlighted the painting's accuracy, or lack thereof. "There are so many things wrong with this image that it's hard to know where to begin," she told me. "This artist obviously had never seen many of the objects he depicts."
"There are so many things wrong with this image that it's hard to know where to begin."