Tonight at the Walker: “Choosing Home: A Right, A Privilege or An Act of Trespass”

Tonight, Thursday, May, 3, the Walker Art Center is hosting a free event called: Choosing Home: A Right, A Privilege or An Act of Trespass. It is described as: “a multidisciplinary presentation where artists/collaborators Dyani White Hawk Polk, Alanna Morris-Van Tassel and Rosy Simas assess the current state of the North American landscape and one’s ability to claim it as home.”

“Scaffold” sculpture was removed from the Walker Sculpture Garden.

Coincidentally, the New York Times and the Star Tribune both ran recent Op/Eds by Olga Viso, the Walker’s former executive director, who left the job after the “Scaffold” controversy. Viso’s Op/Ed was headlined: Decolonizing the Art Museum: The Next Wave. She opens with this question:

Museums have long considered themselves above the fray of the political. But the past 18 months have brought unexpected challenges, and leaders across the country are being confronted with an urgent question: How do museums reconceive their missions at a time of great societal reckoning around race and gender, and as more diverse audiences demand a voice and a sense of accountability?

Let’s start with the details on tonight’s program, curated by Jovan C. Speller, which features White Hawk and Simas who are Native American and Morris-Van Tassel: Choosing Home: A Right, A Privilege or An Act of Trespass. The following is from an email that Simas posted on the Native American Listserve:

May 3rd, 2018

Walker Art Center – throughout the building

Schedule of Events – program and locations provided

5 – 9 pm: Braids (short film) by Dyani White Hawk
5:30, 6:15 and 7 pm: Performances by Alanna Morris-Van Tassel
6 – 7 pm: transfuse (performance) by Rosy Simas
6:30 pm: Understanding Her(e) (performance by Dyani White Hawk
7:30 pm: Panel discussion
transfuse: a breathing, contemplation, clearing, a transition
Rosy Simas

transfuseis informed by the intersection of Simas’ recent journeys to the Deep South (where she was born) and ideas, images and sounds from her “home.” Simas’ home is a place she doesn’t live, the land of her family and people, the Onödowága (Great Hill People) or Seneca, in western New York.
Understanding Her(e)
A performance work created by Dyani White Hawk, in collaboration with Gwen Westerman and Neil McKay. 

The Walker Art Center has a nearly 80-year history of sharing voices and stories through visual, performance and media art from countless people across the globe. Yet, not often enough have these stories included the voices of indigenous people from the land on which the Walker sits. In this piece, Gwen Westerman and Neil McKay will speak in a conversational performance format around their understanding of “home” from Dakota perspectives in the Dakota language. Their conversation will centralize indigenous voices while encouraging contemplation of access, privilege, the history of Mni Sota, and the unfamiliarity of indigenous languages of this land among the vast majority of the American population. 

A short film by Dyani White Hawk, Jovan C. Speller, and Elizabeth Day 
Duration : 30 mins, Looped

Weaving together the voices of their mothers, Dyani White Hawk and Jovan Speller collaborated with filmmaker Elizabeth Day to create Braids. This short film initiates a union of relationship, shared history, and overlaps in culturally significant traditions between African American and Native American families. Braiding, both in practice and in concept reference strength. The strength of a completed braid versus individual strands; the strength of generations and relationships versus the individual; and the strength of our communities combined versus separate.
 Viso’s Op/Ed

Now let’s return to Viso’s Op/Ed, which offered her reflections on the Scaffold controversy:

It is not easy to acknowledge one’s blind spots. What I had hoped would be an opportunity for public education and “truth to power” in the presentation of “Scaffold” was simply not possible because of the continuing historical trauma about an unreckoned-with colonial past. This was a humbling public admission for a person whose career has been devoted to providing a platform for underrepresented histories.

She also offered this vision for art museums moving forward:

Systemic change takes time, vision and nuanced leadership at every level, most especially among donors and museum boards. Selfless investment and fortitude are required. So is a willingness to endure discomfort. To move forward, the entire ecosystem must devote itself to a longer game.

Art can illuminate the fissures in society and in return offer opportunities for healing. But should artists be the only ones to bear the brunt of this responsibility? If museums want to continue to have a place, they must stop seeing activists as antagonists. They must position themselves as learning communities, not impenetrable centers of self-validating authority.

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