For the past twenty years the renowned sculptor John Houser has been creating a magnificent work that will make art history. He is building the largest bronze equestrian statue ever created in the history of mankind. There is only one problem. It is a statue of a mass murderer. His name was Juan de Oñate and he was the first European to establish permanent colonies in North America. In 1598 Oñate founded the city of Santa Fe, became the first Governor of New Mexico and explored the continent from the plains of Kansas to the Sea of Cortez. He did all this long before the Pilgrims even landed at Plymouth Rock. But Oñate also murdered thousands of people, enslaved many more, made Indian women into concubines and when his own colonists objected he killed many of them as well.
While The Last Conquistador follows John Houser as he realizes his artistic vision, it also chronicles the rise of a grass roots movement that stands in fierce opposition to the statue. Native Americans throughout the region vow to stop or destroy Housers’ work because they see it as a monument to genocide, white supremacy and the glorification of tyranny. Many feel it is simply evil.
The Last Conquistador raises troubling questions about race, power, the responsibility of the artist and the meaning of public art in an age of multicultural values and conflicting visions of the past. How does one group honor an important legacy without dishonoring those who were murdered, enslaved and abused?
A co-production of Independent Television Service (ITVS). A co-presentation of POV, Native American Public Telecommunications and KERA Dallas/Fort Worth.