(Tucson, Ariz.)—Shortly after President Trump allegedly referred to Haiti and countries in Africa by an adjective prohibited by most publications’ profanity policies, On’k Akimel O’odham artist Dwayne Manuel posted a graphite drawing to his social media that instantly went viral across Indian Country.
“Coyote and His Sh—hole Headdress” depicts an anthropomorphized Coyote wearing a ribbon shirt, a sardonic expression, and a headdress made of the president’s head.
Almost the minute it was posted, the drawing garnered thousands of likes, many laughs, humorous and supportive comments and, crucially, almost 3,000 shares across social media. Many of us watched to see whether it would be reported for violating Facebook’s ever-changing community standards, but as of this writing, the drawing still stands – and continues to be shared. Many asked if Manuel would have prints available, but he said he doesn’t plan on it, though he may make t-shirts.
Manuel is perhaps best known as a muralist in the graffiti style, both solo and as part of the Indigenous art collective Neoglyphix, where he works under the name Dwayno Insano, but he said his first love is drawing.
“I work with many styles and techniques,” he wrote in an email interview. “I try not to stay doing the same thing. Drawing is my first love, and I will continue to draw, even in this modern-day of tablets and illustration apps. The graphite drawing of the Coyote was the first step to a possibly bigger piece or T-shirt, but I think the image is so clear and clever that it’s big enough as it is.”
In addition to murals and fine art pieces like the Coyote drawing, Manuel has designed shoes as part of Nike’s Desert Journey Collection as well as skateboard decks. He has supported various Indigenous, environmental, and women’s causes through his work and has mentored young Native artists.
Manuel said the Coyote drawing was actually made earlier, but he decided to post it in response to the president’s comments.
“The piece was untitled at first,” he wrote. “It was a preparatory drawing for a possible wall, larger painting or T-shirt design in the future. I try not to let ideas sit in my brains for too long. To get those ideas out as fast as I can, I keep my pencils moving. It was [originally]inspired by the constant exploits of Trump being shoved in our faces, in both social media and television media. The reason why I published it was because of President Trump’s recent negative remarks about other countries. I felt his comments to be hateful and very immature.”
Many Western tribes, especially in California and Great Basin, portray Coyote as simultaneously wise, comical, sly, and clever. Coyote often reflects hard truths through trickery and cunning, and Manuel said that is part of what he hoped to convey.
“The drawing is about The American People,” he said. “The trickster is making a public mockery of their beliefs, their leader, their hate. He wears the presidential head as a ritualistic performance. Just as the President entertains the American people daily, Coyote does this to entertain the Indigenous consciousness.”
There are tribes who wear headdresses made of animal pelts, including coyote. The meaning of the headdress depends on context and tribe. Manuel, who is of the Coyote clan of Salt River, said in the drawing, the headdress represents “manipulation, trophy, mockery and entertainment/performance.”
Based on social media comments, it seems most people understood and appreciated that. Manuel said he was surprised that the drawing got so much attention, but he knows how quickly attention can pass in today’s lightning-fast news cycle.
“I didn’t expect it to go viral,” he said. “I expected people to laugh, I expected maybe a few shares, maybe some small dialogue, and I expected to lose maybe two friends over it … but I didn’t expect it to get over 2,900 shares. It felt good to see indigenous peoples sharing the image as it confirmed that we are all on the same page about the political leader of this country, and that shows unity and hope.”
While he hasn’t gotten many negative responses, Manuel said he does not fear controversy.
“As far as controversy goes, this isn’t my first time to dance,” the artist said. “I’ve done a couple controversial art pieces in my life. There have been no direct hate mail or comments towards me, which is good … What I learned is, it’s quick to pass, and it will pass in a week and everyone will be mad about something else. That’s life. I wanted to share the piece to show Native America that I have a lot to say, and I will say it through my expression, and I don’t care if you don’t like it. That’s a graffiti mentality: ‘I’m going to boldly write my name right here and I don’t care who likes it.’ That’s where I’m coming from.”