Paper Bags

The Paper Bag Series


I remember doing a quick drawing on a lunch bag when I was curator of the American Indian Community House Gallery in NY in 1978-85. I started thinking about Indian bags made of all sorts of materials and their significance to us. Then I noticed that the common denominator for those of us who traveled on the subway from Brooklyn to Manhattan every day was that we carried some kind of bag—a plastic bag, a shopping bag, a briefcase, a handbag, a lunch bag, or whatever. When I showed my bags early on, there was a positive response to them, so they became a bit of a signature for me.


I’ve also used bags from specific stores, and I layer some content on top of the images that are already on the bag.


The bags are autobiographical as well as issue oriented. Sometimes the bag itself adds to the idea. When I went to New Zealand for the second time, I produced a bag called Threading the Needle with Red, Black, and White. I put it together with images of a Maori dancer and a photograph I took in New Zealand 10 years before. The title came from a Maori elder who claimed that the major challenge of today’s society is to all live together. He said we need to thread the needle with the red, the black, and the white, and when we sew this fabric that is our society, that’s how we will live together.


Another bag was called For Our Land they Gave Us Gifts. On ​one​ side there was a painting of a horse, and ​on the other side were Columbus’ ships. Was the horse a gift from the Spanish? No. Inside the bag were the real gifts—a 12-pack of Budweiser, a gold coin, and an image of a crucifix I was reflecting on the fact that those are the “gifts” the Spanish brought us and some of the conflicts they produced in our communities.


The paper bags have become a story, a narrative I’ve created. They’ve always gotten the attention of writers and critics, and museums are collecting them.

Click on an image for a larger view and slide show.