go through Kelsey Turner
Chicago’s Field Museum to open new building this Friday Native Truth: Our Voices, Our Stories On display to the public, featuring the first renovations to the museum’s North American Native Hall since it was first installed in the 1950s. The exhibition is centered on five core permanent sections called “Indigenous Truths,” presenting essential information about Indigenous experience and culture, as well as six revolving galleries of stories.
The exhibition follows a four-and-a-half-year collaboration between Aboriginal elders, community members, artists, educators, scholars and museum staff. Representing 105 different tribes and displaying approximately 400 objects, it explores current issues such as tribal sovereignty and climate change, while respecting Aboriginal history and culture.
“I was shocked,” Dakota and Diné artist and comedian Dallas Goldtos said during a tour of the exhibition. “I’m used to these spaces that feel so unfamiliar because it’s like we’re showing, the locals and the culture are showing. It feels like we’re in charge of the narrative.” Clip from FX series Reservation Dogs, featuring Goldtooth as a character William Knife-Man loops in the lobby.
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As visitors enter the exhibit, they pass on the walls in bold black letters that read: “You are native.” A recording of a poem written by Native futurist artist X plays throughout the entrance, courtesy of Chicago The Potawatomi artist read aloud Monica Richter-BoultDeeper in the exhibition is a glowing acknowledgment: “The practice of museum collections and exhibitions has deeply hurt Indigenous communities. This exhibition marks a new beginning.”
In addition to showcasing traditional art forms and cultural items, the exhibition highlights more contemporary mediums such as digital art, video, photography and modern music. The labels for each exhibition are written in the first person, allowing the artist to speak for himself.
“The Old Hall really disconnects Aboriginal people as humans from our objects because it’s very object-based,” said Debra Yepa-Pappan, the museum’s Aboriginal community engagement coordinator and a citizen of Jemez Pueblo. “With this [exhibition], you actually hear sounds, and you see images of children. It takes us back to the present. ”
Previously, the Field Museum’s Native American Hall included more than a thousand cultural objects from various tribes with little context about the stories behind them. Due to cultural insensitivity and a lack of consultation with tribes when the exhibition first opened in the 1950s, the museum misclassified certain objects and displayed works that were not suitable for public viewing.
For the refurbished exhibit, the museum talked directly with the tribe about how best to honor their artifacts. For example, to properly display the sacred standing headdress made by Blackfoot ancestors, museum staff spent three years talking to Blackfoot women and elders to obtain their permission and guidance for the exhibit. The museum invited several of the women to the exhibition opening on Saturday.
“In the past, museums often wouldn’t even talk to anyone in the community about how they would display what is often referred to as an ‘artifact,'” said Blackfoot tribe member, historian and collaborator Rosalyn Ra, who registered at the booth. Rosalyn LaPier said. Display on the headgear. “As I think everyone does, we take the time to make sure the history we share is appropriate and correct.”
The idea for the renovation began after local artist, Kaw Nation citizen and Yepa-Pappan’s husband presented his work in a temporary exhibition at the Old North American Native Hall from 2016 to 2019. Pappan inserts a culture of contemporary artwork depicting Aboriginal people into the exhibition, and the review aims to confront viewers with the museum’s outdated depiction of Aboriginal people.
“There is no information about who these people are,” Papin said of the old exhibition. “I was able to intervene and create work to enliven the space and give the impression that we are a living culture.”
Alaka Wali, curator emeritus of North American Anthropology, said the “lights went out” for museum staff when his exhibit came on, as they recognized the need to make changes to the Indigenous Hall. The museum then began raising funds for a refurbished Native American exhibit that will appropriately honor the stories of Indigenous peoples.
The museum convened an advisory committee of Native American scholars, museum professionals, artists and community members from what is now the United States and Canada to guide the project. The committee helps ensure that every component of the exhibit reflects and supports the Indigenous community, right down to the building materials for the lobby – Menominee Tribal Enterprises, a sustainable wood supplier that makes products at the Menominee Indian Reservation in Wisconsin, supplies maple for the floors Wood, while birch bark siding serves ground visitors in the Great Lakes region.
Yepa-Pappan also successfully promoted the use of copper, a metal of great significance to the Great Lakes tribe, as a decorative element for walls. The exhibit designers initially planned to use stainless steel, she said. “It looked good at first, but at the same time, for me personally, being an Aboriginal, it still felt a little industrial.” The copper colours used in the exhibition range from bronze to blue to red, making the space more natural.
Yepa-Pappan was inspired by the positive feedback from Native visitors to the exhibit, which opened to the Native American community this past weekend. “I’ve always wanted this exhibition to be for Aboriginal people – by Aboriginal people, of course, but also for Aboriginal people,” she said. “This is the native space. We make this our space.”
For details on the opening of Saturday’s Indigenous Truth: Our Voices, Our Stories exhibition at the Field Museum in Chicago, see here.
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