American Art and National Identity

Imperial Eyes: Indonesia

Fig. 12. Lauri Hogin, b. 1963
Imperial Eyes: Indonesia, 1997,
oil of canvas,
Brauer Museum of Art, Sloan Fund Purchase, 98.1

Identity is a fragile thing, as the work of Greenfield and even Ringgold suggests: it is the product of struggle and deliberate assertion, and it is always in need of maintenance. But identity is also the result of social forces much larger than the personal self. It depends on a degree of material wealth and control over the natural world to anchor identity to an enduring place. But Laurie Hogin's painting, Imperial Eyes: Indonesia (1997; fig. 12), indicts western capitalism for a maniacal reduction of the world to commodity, transforming everything into the logic of the global marketplace. America is neither garden of paradise nor triumphant urban dynamo, but the unseen hand of exploitation. Indonesia's exotic Bird of Paradise croaks under the assault of capitalism. The lush image of
the bird contrasts with the tags of American consumerism that are inscribed in the frame: coffee, tea, palm oil, feathers, tobacco, tropical hardwoods, rubber. These are what Indonesia really means to American well-being, Hogin announces. America is a voracious appetite.


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