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Beauty Passing Through Us: Natural History and Art as Intervention

An Exhibition in Support of Extraction: Art on the Edge of the Abyss

June 24 - August 26, 2021

The Dark Mark of manifest Destiny

Klee Benally




After John Gast, American Progress,1872

I took John Gast’s infamous 1872 painting that quite literally is the visual definition of manifest destiny and placed a “Dementor” from the world of Harry Potter to disrupt the existent pop-colonial narrative. In many ways these are complimentary fictions: a Dementor is a force that sucks all happiness from life and spreads a deep sense of hopelessness and despair, and “manifest destiny” is just invader/settler code for genocide.

Gast painted the original picture on commission from George Crofutt, the publisher of a popular series of western travel guides. It was widely disseminated as a commercial color print to encourage travel and “settlement.”  Columbia, the personification of the United States, leads white settlers from the light-skied east to the dark and treacherous West. She lays a telegraph wire with one hand and carries a school book in the other. White farmers, seen on the right have already settled in the Midwest. As Lady Columbia moves westward, indigenous people and a herd of buffalo flee from her and the settlers.