Important people get their portraits painted. That way, we get them on postage stamps (once they’re dead), or buy a print of their face to put in our home. And there are always the history textbooks and pop culture magazines, ready with their sanitized information on why this president or that CEO, this royal personage or that knighted singer, is so very, very important to the rest of us.
Regular people, if they want portraits of themselves, go to box stores and buy a photo package. And those portraits stay in their home or that of relatives, because those are the only people who know them and care about them.
Isn’t it intriguing the distinctions between the very very rich (the “important”) and the ordinary, regular people? It’s vital to recognize these top-down created distinctions so that we can identify their deception, the deception that some people are worth more than others for no other reason than . . . money, lots of it, which buys power and “fame.”
The artwork, Nesjaja Hatali, is a painted portrait based upon the historic photo taken by Edward Curtis, a photographer of the 19th and 20th century who was commissioned by financial magnate J.P. Morgan and President Theodore Roosevelt, among others, to document the American Indians before they completely disappeared. In the minds of these “great” men, that’s what these real, ordinary, incredibly unique people — the Native Americans who simply wanted to live their lives and watch their grandchildren grow into adulthood — would and should do: disappear, so that progress could be made.
Because Nesjaja Hatali was not important in the world of Morgan and Roosevelt, we know little about him, but his face shows a man who has lived through and seen much — a face of experience and wisdom, of great thought. It is not a face that thinks about how much money he has in the bank, nor how to exponentially increase it.
It is a face that thinks about the future of his grandchildren, and the grandchildren of his people, and wonders what kind of life they will have. This is the focus of the regular person, the ordinary person, the everyday person who does not get their presidential portrait taken and distributed to the masses.
This is the face of the person who is important enough to have their portrait painted.
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