Artists, curators discuss Field Museum's exhibit during SSD

April 18, 2023 (Volume 46, Number 16)
Article by Brian Vernellis

four people seated at table with microphones in front of them, posters on display behind them

Curators from Chicago’s Field Museum and Indigenous artists visited Grand Valley on April 11 as part of the Student Scholars Day Keynote Panel, discussing the museum’s collection of Native American artwork, 'Native Truths: Our Voice, Our Stories.'

Curators from Chicago’s Field Museum and Indigenous artists visited Grand Valley on April 11 as part of the Student Scholars Day Keynote Panel, discussing the museum’s exhibition, “Native Truths: Our Voices, Our Stories.”

The panelists were Alaka Wali, curator emerita of North American Anthropology in the Science and Education Division of the Field Museum; Karen Ann Hoffman, a Haudenosaunee-raised beadwork artist whose work appears in the exhibition; Eli Suzukovich, a researcher at the Negaunee Integrative Research Center at the Field Museum; and Jason Wesaw, a multi-disciplinary artist.

Wali, who began working at the Field Museum in 1995, was asked to take over the curation of the North American collection in 2010. Wali said her expertise was not in the Native Americans of North America, but felt compelled to accept the position.

“I was able to bring to the creation of this collection an approach that was about collaboration,” Wali said. “I was always trying to do not just basic research, but research that made sense to the people who I was collaborating with.”

As the collection began to materialize, Wali said she began to understand the pain and trauma over the deep colonial history that Native Americans experience over an exhibit like the one she was building.

“How do we begin to address that trauma,” Wali said. “For a museum to work with Native American communities, let them have power and control over the collections and the representation of their stories.”

Hoffman, one of the participating artists in the collection, said working with Wali and the Field Museum was unlike previous exhibits she had contributed to.

“I saw that the Field Museum really shifted its worldview in terms of working with us,” Hoffman said. “When Alaka talked about collaboration, she truly meant power sharing. She truly meant that the pieces, the animate pieces of art that we brought to live with her in her care and the care of her team would be treated as living breeding things that carry their own knowledge.”

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This article was last edited on April 18, 2023 at 10:4 a.m.

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