Connected \\ October 8, 2020
Celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day
The 2019 Welcome blessing in PEM’s Atrium, a highlight among our PEM staff and Fellows alike. © 2019 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Mel Taing
Since 2010, PEM has greeted Fellows with a welcome blessing led by regional Indigenous community members. The goal is to set a shared intention for the time ahead with a spirit of togetherness while also recognizing the brutal legacies of colonization that museums have with Native people. PEM staff are invited to join our circle, to come together in acknowledging our Fellows who are leaving their families and communities for the summer, to help PEM shape a path forward filled with their multiple perspectives and contributions to projects.
Jennifer Himmelreich (Diné), Native American Fellowship Program Manager (center) looks at objects in collection storage with 2019 summer Fellows Neebinnaukzhik (Neebin) Southall (Chippewa of the Rama First Nation) at left, and Kamuela Werner (Kanaka Maoli) © 2019 Peabody Essex Museum.
Fellows have contributed to several major projects at PEM, including Shapeshiftng: Transformations in Native American Art (2010), Native Fashion Now (2015–17), and T.C. Cannon: At the Edge of America (2018–19). They helped me think through not only individual artworks and thematic ideas, but also through broader issues, systemic and systematic, embedded within the museum field that have prohibited authentic dialogue. This has shaped my curatorial practice as well as other PEM curators in deeply significant ways. Through workshops, research, interpretation and this kind of open dialogue, Fellows also helped us realize our forthcoming Putnam Gallery of Native and American art, which I am co-curating with PEM curators Sarah Chasse and Dean Lahikainen.
2018–19 Long-term Interpretation and Curatorial Fellow Frank Redner (Upper Sioux) (left) and 2018 Summer Fellow Tess Lukey (Aquinnah Wampanoag) in Putnam Gallery workshop discussion in 2018 © 2018 Peabody Essex Museum.
This captures our work in motion (and sticky notes) on what America means to our 2019 summer Fellows during our Putnam Gallery workshop. Photo by author.
The Putnam Gallery, slated to open November 2021, will explore how artistic expression has the power to define and redefine our concept of America. For the first time, we will bring together Native and American art in this robust way to tell more complex stories from broader perspectives across time, space and worldviews. Artists and artworks can help us grapple with the links, continuities and ruptures in our shared histories on this land, to shape a more connected and empathetic future.
Hanödaga:yas, or Town Destroyer, 2018 by Alan Michelson (Mohawk member of the Six Nations of the Grand River) investigates the legacies of President George Washington in Haudenosaunee communities, and will be included in our 2021 Putnam Gallery installation. Photo courtesy of the artist.
For artists like Jared Yazzie and hundreds of thousands of others, the fallout from Columbus is personal. In 2012, he designed a T-shirt for his OXDX brand. In four deftly deployed words, Native Americans Discovered Columbus, Yazzie reclaims America as Indigenous country, decrying the cultural oppression and loss of land and languages that were among the many repercussions of Columbus’ arrival. This shirt remains emblematic of the work PEM and our staff will continue doing as we move forward to tell underrepresented histories and lift up voices from this country’s First Americans. A recent Instagram post on @oxdxclothing speaks to this. Yazzie writes: “Let’s rewrite every inaccuracy taught and come swinging this October.” Here, here.
Photo courtesy Jared Yazzie.
On that spirited note, please join us @peabodyessex on October 12 for our virtual programming in honor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Also, I offer an open invitation to join me in celebrating Native Americans, today and every day.