Every August, Buffalo Boy returns to Burning Man, an annual festival held in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. During this week-long festival, the inhospitable desert is transformed into a temporary city in which difference and hybridity are embraced and connections among subjugated peoples are forged. In this world of shifting genders, genres and genera, Adrian Stimson’s fabulous and fictitious persona of Buffalo Boy is free to shift in and out of identities, abandoning fixed meaning in favour of play, indeterminacy and ambiguity.
On the playa at Burning Man, Buffalo Boy is all the rage. One moment, we see his identity rupturing into a brooding shaman-exterminator; wrapped in buffalo robes, he moves through the hot, heavy desert air pursued by a thick belt of dust clouds. The next, he is a campy cowboy wearing a bison G-string, buffalo corset, disco cowboy hat and black fishnets. He flicks his bullwhip as battered art cars filled with chimeras, monsters and mutants sail regally past in the heat haze.
In the Felliniesque campsite of Burning Man, the multi-gendered Buffalo Boy—neither human, beast, boy nor girl—gives us access to the trans, to the crossing of boundaries, to metamorphosis and the hybrid. “Burning Man is about cultural fusion and appropriations,” Stimson says. “But at the root of it is a notion of a kinder community in which everyone can exist. It accepts difference, though it is not always easy.” At the end of August, however, Buffalo Boy returns to the Plains where he was born, and here in the once-and-still-colonial world of the Canadian West, his story is an entanglement of constraints and freedoms.
Stimson is a Saskatoon-based artist and public intellectual of considerable versatility. His work is spread across many fields of art-making and being: he is a creator of edgy performance personas, a painter known for his “tar and feathers” series, an installation artist, curator, educator, environmental activist and First Nations politician. Born in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Stimson is part Irish and part Siksika. As he tells it, “My mom’s mom was a war bride. My great-great-grandfather on my mom’s side was the Irish vaudevillian Tom E. Deane. His wife, Louie Neville, was an opera singer. My dad is Siksika. We lived in Fort George in Quebec, then on the Gordon First Nation and Lebret in Saskatchewan. In 1975 we moved back home to Siksika Nation (Blackfoot Reserve) in Alberta.”
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