Apache artist Douglas Miles has been helping teach the history of the San Carlos Apache Indian tribe, the importance of community-building, and promoting pride and wellbeing, to young people globally, through the skateboarding movement.
Now some of the artist’s most iconic works, including those created for his APACHE Skateboards brand, is currently on display at Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race.
The exhibition, Apache Chronicles: The Art of Douglas Miles, features 23 of the artist’s works on photographic paper, wood and signature skateboard decks.
Inspired by street art, comic strips and sci-fi, Douglas Miles’ work transcends traditional and contemporary art. Douglas Miles brings to light the true history of his heritage through modern artistic mediums including graffiti art.
Born in 1963, Douglas Miles grew up in Phoenix and later returned to the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation in southeastern Arizona. He began creating street art when he was in high school. From there, he began expanding his portfolio, creating fine art and colourful murals that depict Native American youth, the Apache culture, and reservation lifestyles.
His art looks beyond documented history of Native Americans. Something that no book, film nor class can teach. Instead Douglas Miles effortlessly connects to his own knowledge base or wisdom that exists within him, in order to share with the world an “unheard and unseen reality”, which he then illustrates on skate decks, on walls, in photographs or on film.
Douglas Miles says: “Native American [Apache] subject matter will always be important to me. Written history of this country seems to have omitted the battle for independence my tribes fought for. Much of my work is a reflection of the unheard and unseen reality of Apache and tribal history in America.
“There is a combination of art, cultural pride, acceptance, skate culture, tribal self-determination, rebellion and tribal sovereignty built into an unassuming wooden toy.”
A native of San Carlos Apache Nation reservation, Douglas Miles was himself drawn to skateboarding as a kid, but the calling to create APACHE Skateboards, the first Native-owned skateboard company, came when his son Douglas Miles Jr started to embrace the sport in the 1990s.
Watching his son practice skateboarding, Douglas Miles witnessed the similarities between the Apache warrior tradition and skateboarding – both require focus and concentration, stamina and the ability to withstand pain.
As his son began to develop his skateboarding talents, Douglas Miles recalls the moment he could not afford to buy his son a name brand skateboard, so decided to put his artistry skills to use and design a skateboard instead. He says: “If I lived 100 years ago, I would have made my son a bow and arrow. Now I live in the 21st century, so I made him a skateboard…It’s the same thing – a father making something for his son.”
The skateboard in question featured an Apache warrior with a spear and shield. Douglas Miles’s skateboard creation itself, as well as his son’s formidable skateboarding skills, started to attract the attention of his son’s peers. The huge interest spawned the idea to create APACHE Skateboards – a company which was founded in 2002.
On the APACHE Skateboards website, Douglas Miles says: “I hope to inspire people to know that their voice counts no matter where they are from. The art of tribal people/people of color is probably the most powerful weapon we possess in our ‘survival arsenal’.”
In addition to designing boards, APACHE Skateboards are involved in community projects. APACHE Skateboards also sponsors a skate team, help plans skate parks, and has its hand in documentary film and music projects.
A documentary film that tells the story of APACHE Skateboards and explores the tribal connection to skateboarding is currently in production.
APACHE Skateboards are available to buy online
Apache Chronicles: The Art of Douglas Miles exhibition is currently on at the Gallery at Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race. It runs until 30 May 2017
Rosalind Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She is a writer who specialises in sustainable life & style, music, entertainments and wellbeing. Rosalind also works as a spiritual life coach and intuitive advisor helping people to become who they truly are and manifest their heart & soul’s desires into their lives: www.rosalindmedea.com