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James Luna Archive

Identifier: IAIAMS025

Scope and Contents note

IAIA-MS-25, The James Luna Archive consists of 50 manuscript cases (25 cu. ft) of correspondence, printed matter, scripts, notes, journals, datebooks, audio-visual materials, ephemera, photographs, and oversize items related to the art career of performance and installation artist James Luna, 1969-2010 (1982-2010, Bulk).

The archive documents the long and varied career of Luna including his live performances, exhibit installations, musical endeavours, lectures, awards, residencies, workshops, and other projects related to his artwork.

The strength of the collection lies in its completeness; Luna preserved most every letter, email, contract, script, paper, photographs, poster, brochure, and other materials related to his career in its original order.

The archive is an excellent resource for many subjects; Luna's career, the history of Native performance art, and the general nature of the process involved in installation and performance artwork.

Luna's library of art books and exhibit catalogs were transferred to the noncirculating collection of the IAIA library and can be searched in the library catalog.


  • Majority of material found within Bulk, 1982-2010
  • 1969-2013

Biographical/Historical note

From the IAIA Vision Project, Written by Shanna Ketchum-Heap of Birds. "James Luna (Pooyukitchum/Luiseño), one of the leading figures in the field of contemporary Native American art, exhibits his performances and multimedia installations at national and international venues. He graduated from the University of California, Irvine, with a degree in studio art in 1976 and retired as a full-time counselor from Palomar College, San Marcos. Over the past three decades, Luna has created works that explore Native American issues in a contemporary vein inspired by personal experience and critical observations. Using irony and satire, Luna’s performances often deal with socio-economic issues affecting Indian communities thereby confronting and challenging stereotypes about Native Americans.

In the widely acclaimed Artifact Piece (1987), Luna created an installation about a modern Indian man and, in so doing, critiqued the representation of Native culture by museums and other institutions that systematically objectify and romanticize Native peoples as either living in the past or altogether vanquished. In the installation, the artist laid or in a display case with personal objects such as family pictures, college diplomas, and divorce papers on view. This was Luna’s opportunity to “bite back,” or speak from a Native perspective[1] with emotion and feeling by literally sharing his life (and body) with an audience. In Take A Picture With A Real Indian (1993) the artist dressed in three different “costumes” and beckoned his audience to take a photo with him as a way to comment on the exploitation of Native culture in American corporate society. Luna wore a loincloth, subsequently added a bone breast plate and a feather in his hair, and, lastly, put on regular street clothes. The fact that the audience does not line up for photographs when he is wearing the last “costume” proves Luna’s point that Native people have been turned into commodities by the entertainment industry.

The artist was commissioned by the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution, to exhibit Emendatio at the 51st International Art Exhibition, Venice Biennale, 2005. Emendatio—“emendation” in English—means to correct what is erroneous or faulty. The exhibit consisted of four installations and a sixteen-hour performance titled Renewal that took place in four-hour intervals over four days. In a ritualistic circle made up of sugar packets, syringes, and insulin vials, Luna danced in place as a gesture of sacrifice. In the installation Apparitions: Past and Present images of the artist’s family come into view, while in The Chapel for Pablo Tac, homage is paid to the life of a fellow Luiseño tribal member who studied at a missionary school in Rome in 1814. According to one critic, Luna’s exhibit is not only about the resilience and survival of a people but also shows how the Luiseño have “transmuted Euro-American culture’s useful elements into something uniquely their own.”[2]

Luna states that his “30 year-plus career is alive and well and I continue to challenge myself [in terms of] content, technology and physically.”[3] In April of 2009, Luna presented Urban (Almost) Rituals at the Te Papa Tongarewa Museum in Wellington, New Zealand. This eight-hour performance was streamed live on the internet and displayed innovative use of video projection, a “beat” music score, and invited the participation of local artists. Luna currently resides on the La Jolla Indian reservation." Credit:

Artist Statement from "Allow me to Introduce Myself". "In the United States, we Indians have been forced, by various means, to live up to the ideals of what "Being and Indian" is to the general public: In art, it means the work "Looked Indian", and that look was controlled by the market. If the market said that it (my work) did not look "Indian," then it did not sell. If it did not sell, then it wasn't Indian. I think somewhere in the mess, many Indian artists forgot who they were by doing work that had nothing to do with their tribe, by doing work that did not tell about their existence in the world today, and by doing work for others and not for themselves. It is my feeling that artwork in the medias of Performance and Installation offers an opportunity like no other for Indian people to express themselves in traditional art forms of ceremony, dance, oral traditions and contemporary thought, without compromise. Within these (nontraditional) spaces, one can use a variety of media, such as found/made objects, sounds, video and slides so that there is no limit to how and what is expressed."


25.0 Cubic Feet

Language of Materials



IAIA-MS-25, The James Luna Archive consists of 50 manuscript cases (25 cu. ft) of correspondence, printed matter, scripts, notes, journals, datebooks, audio-visual materials, ephemera, photographs, and oversize items related to the art career of performance and installation artist James Luna, 1969-2010 (1982-2010, Bulk).

Arrangement note

IAIA-MS-25 is arranged into 13 distinct series: Working Files, Artifact Piece, Shameman, Venice Biennale, Scripts, Notes, Notebooks, Journals, Datebooks, Printed Matter, Audio-Visual, Ephemera, and Oversize.

Each series represents the original order maintained by James Luna.

The largest series, Working Files, is arranged chronologically (1978-2010) to Luna's original order--each project represents a file. Although the dates and years are sometimes out of order, it was important to maintain the original order of the creator of the records.

Separated Materials note

The library materials, including art books and exhibit catalogs, have been separated from the collection and are stored in the IAIA Library Non Circulating collection.
Guide to the James Luna Archive
Finding aid prepared by This finding aid was authored by Ryan S. Flahive, Archivist, Institute of American Indian Arts, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
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Script of description
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Revision Statements

  • Monday, 20210524: Attribute normal is missing or blank.

Repository Details

Part of the Institute of American Indian Arts Repository