BY SHANZEH AHMAD | Feb. 11, 2017
PHOTO BY SHANZEH AHMAD
A Native American art exhibit, Re-Riding History: From the Southern Plains to the Matanzas Bay, is on display in the Edgewood gallery until later this month.
The opening reception for the exhibition was hosted in The Stream on Jan. 26, where two of the curators of the show were there to meet and greet the evening’s visitors.
The exhibit features 72 artists who were asked to respond to an unwritten history from the late 1800s. In 1875, the United States War Department arrested 72 American Indian leaders in Oklahoma who were forcibly taken to St. Augustine, Florida. They were imprisoned from 1875 to 1878 under Lieutenant Richard Henry Pratt at Fort Marion, which was renamed Castillo de San Marcos in 1942.
The artists were asked to create an individual piece of work on paper in the same dimensions as the historic ledger drawings made at Fort Marion during the imprisonment. The selected artists include Native Americans, non-Native Americans, and descendants of those imprisoned.
Emily Arthur and John Hitchcock, both professors at UW-Madison, along with Marwin Begaye, assistant professor of printmaking and painting. at the University of Oklahoma, came together as the show’s curators to metaphorically retrace this history of the 72 American Indians.
“This exhibition was first installed in 2015 at Flagler College Art Museum only a few blocks away from the prison gates,” said Arthur. “The artists reclaim the telling of this story to offer an indigenous perspective of our shared history.”
Re-Riding History is supposed to remember the lives of the American Indians that few even know about. This unwritten history has been lost in the shuffle.
“Many people from the historic St. Augustine community, including my students, had never learned of this cultural genocide,” said Arthur. “However, in Oklahoma and within many American Indian communities across the nation, the descendants of prisoners at Fort Marion hold this history intact through storytelling and imagery of ledger drawings.”
David Wells, director of the Edgewood art gallery, echoed this lack of knowledge about an unwritten history. “These stories are a history that has been handed down through Native American living oral traditions but have not been told in or to the dominant cultural point of view,” said Wells. “It is important that they be told to a much wider cultural base so that we all recognize our shared complicity in this history and continuing a history of marginalization by not seeing beyond a very narrow version of history.”
Wells first happened upon the exhibition in a gallery in Minneapolis, then contacted the curators to bring the show to Edgewood. “The Art of Ho-Chunk Basket Making, which is on display in the hallway leading up to the gallery, was added to include the rich cultural tradition of our local Ho-Chunk tribe,” said Wells. “John Hitchcock: Protectors, on display in the atrium right outside of the gallery, expands the dialogue initiated by Re-Riding History in a very contemporary, conceptually-based installation.”
Robert Possehl, professor in paper and print making at Edgewood College, also said it is important to show this exhibition to audiences at Edgewood and around the nation. “This community has a history that is unwritten,” said Possehl. “It’s an oral history. This is about an oral history put in image. It’s important in my work, and it’s important that Edgewood has more shows like this. Several different artists responding to these events make for a great and powerful show.”
Arthur said Re-Riding History proposes there is not one version of history–that history is subjective. “Taken further, this idea suggests something about how we think of time. Hours, days, months, years, etc. may be considered as linear, but the artists and curators of this exhibition suggest that time is cyclical, forever turning on itself, like a spiral continuously circling to the same moments, re-inscribing these events with new insights.”
Audiences learning of these histories through this show are able to learn while being visually stimulated by the artwork. Rather than learning from the internet or text books, guests are welcome to walk through the gallery and react to each piece individually as well as the exhibition as a whole. “The idea that a picture is worth a thousand words is kind of cliché, but it’s shown to be so true with this show as it is representative of an unwritten, oral history,” said Possehl. “This show is really inviting conversations that otherwise wouldn’t have happened.”
Re-Riding History is on display in the gallery located in The Stream until Feb. 26. On Friday, Feb. 17, there will be a symposium presenting social justice through contemporary Native American perspectives, followed by an evening reception with several of the featured artists.