Dakota Elders to Walker Art Center: Tear Down That Scaffold

Scaffold sculpture at the Sculpture Garden.

Dakota elders are asking the Walker Art Center to remove the new “Scaffold” sculpture from its soon-to-be reopened sculpture garden, according to an email from Graci Horne, who is both Dakota and Hunkpapa Lakota.

This is a sculpture seen from two vastly different world views.

To Horne and other Dakota, this is about cultural appropriation. The artist, Sam Durant, is white. This is about a white artist making money off of a story that is not his to tell. This is about the Dakota people having been left out of the conversation altogether.

To Olga Viso, the Walker Art Center’s Executive Director, the sculpture is a broader commentary on capital punishment. “I see it as a white artist who is looking at white power structures and systems of control that have subjugated nations and peoples throughout our history,” she said in a phone interview with Healing Minnesota Stories.

Sketch of the gallows from the mass hanging of Dakota men in Mankato in 1862 (Wikimedia Commons)

The sculpture is as big as a two story house. It depicts gallows from seven different hangings, most prominently the mass hanging of 38 Dakota men following the Dakota-U.S. War of 1862. Other gallows include the replicas from the hangings of John Brown, Saddam Hussein and the 1926 hanging of Rainey Bethea, a 26-year-old black man hung in 1926 in Owensboro, Kentucky, the last U.S. public hanging. The gallows from the mass hanging of the Dakota 38 is the most visible part. It is the sculpture’s exterior into which the other gallows are nested.

Viso has published an apology for not including Dakota people in this process. She has promised to meet with members of the Dakota community. That process is still unfolding.

In the meantime, protests at the Sculpture Garden are just getting started. Continue reading

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