This article charts Durham’s use of “strategic ambiguity,” whereby the uncertainty at the center of the controversy has ultimately served to protect the artist and his livelihood. Durham is the subject of nearly four times more articles and books than any other contemporary artist who identifies as Cherokee. It is almost impossible to interpret Durham’s work outside the perspective of a Cherokee identity. Although some articles offer the usual dual admission—that he identifies as Cherokee and that his heritage has been questioned—they nonetheless offer praise for Durham’s work as both authentically “Native American” and progressive in the contemporary art world. In refuting the various reasons given for the artist’s lack of tribal enrollment, this article emphasizes that art critics’ insistence on referencing Durham’s Cherokee “heritage” is crucial because if the artist is not Native, his work becomes not simply meaningless, but even insulting.

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