Jeffrey Veregge isn’t the first artist of color to infuse a Marvel comics property with personal racial and cultural signifiers. But thanks to his exhibit at the National Museum of the American Indian‘s satellite facility in New York City, he may be the first Indigenous illustrator to render multiple Marvel superheroes in a formline mural.
This work—portions of which Smithsonian Magazine included in a profile of Veregge today (November 26)—sits at the center of Jeffrey Veregge: Of Gods and Men. The mural showcases a mix of contemporary pop culture and formline technique—a practice developed by Indigenous people of Alaska and the Pacific Northwestern coast. The Sealaska Heritage Institute defines formline design by its use of interconnected positive space elements, which artists traditionally used to render folklore, tribal crests and other key cultural markers of their identities. Veregge is a member of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe in Washington state.
“My ancestors, and other storytellers across the globe before me shared the tales that were relevant to them,” Veregge says. “They would take the time to put them down on whatever materials that they had access to, be it cave walls, papyrus or hand shaped cedar. Basically, I do the same using the materials that are available to me—in this case, a computer and Adobe Illustrator—sharing the stories that made me who I am and represent a strong part of my personality and core beliefs.”
Veregge adds that the mural, which features superheroes of color like Black Panther and Red Wolf alongside White characters, reflects the diversity of its audience:
“I wanted every child who went in there to be able to see someone and say, ‘they’re from where I’m from.’” With that in mind, one of the final changes he made to the work, after it had been submitted and was waiting for Marvel approval, came as he realized he had not included an Arab or Muslim character in the group.
“I sent an email and said, ‘I’d really like to add Ms. Marvel, who’s Muslim, to this,’” he says. “They said, ‘okay, we love that addition.’ I shifted some things around and put her in there and it actually helped balance things out for me. By adding her, it made it much more complete.”
See more of the mural at SmithsonianMag.com.