Victor Masayesva Jr. Ritual Clowns. 1988. Video (color, sound). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase. ©️ 2021 Victor Masayesva Jr.

Victor Masayesva Jr.’s Ritual Clowns

Watch Masayesva’s haunting video, about the entwined history of technology, humor, and Indigenous culture, during this exclusive two-week screening.
Jul 7, 2021

Victor Masayesva Jr.’s Ritual Clowns screened here July 7–21, 2021. The film is no longer available for streaming. Join us for the next Hyundai Card Video Views screening, beginning August 11, 2021.

Since the 1980s, the artist Victor Masayesva Jr. has demonstrated how video and computer technologies can uphold, or undermine, Native and Indigenous communities’ control of their histories. In Ritual Clowns (1988), Masayesva deftly alters anthropological footage using montage, oral tradition, and early video animations to depict Hopi symbols and ritual clowns. Shifting between found footage, depictions of land, and school children in costume, Ritual Clowns narrates the educational, cleansing role of Hopi clowns and humor seen in Southwest Pueblo plaza traditions across generations. Made using supercomputers at Broadway Video, the entertainment and media company known for producing Saturday Night Live, Masayesva’s animations guide the viewer from the origins of documentary film to its impact on the contemporary understanding of humor, and clowns, as solely entertainment.

As the Ritual Clowns’ narrative demonstrates, meanings shift over time. Following initial production, the artist removed the work from circulation until the mid-2010s to reconsider the privacy of the cultural knowledge he depicts. In recent years, he has exhibited the work on a case-by-case basis. In his essay “Indigenous Experimentalism,” Masayesva writes, “Experimental films and videos can be defined by the degree to which they subvert the colonizers’ indoctrination and champion Indigenous expression in the political landscape.” Ritual Clowns reminds us of the power of video, and that humor can be a form of care and healing.

Watch the introduction Masayesva recorded for this exclusive two-week screening, reflecting on the pointed impact of Ritual Clowns and his practice across the past four decades. Join us for other screenings in the Hyundai Card Video Views series, which considers artists’ engagement with a technology that has become central to our daily lives.

–Lilia Rocio Taboada, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Media and Performance

Media and Performance at MoMA is made possible by Hyundai Card


Major support is provided by the Jill and Peter Kraus Endowed Fund for Contemporary Exhibitions.


Generous funding is provided by the Lonti Ebers Endowment for Performance and the Sarah Arison Fund for Performance.