Walker’s Latest Controversy with Native American Community Members: How Will it Embrace the Moment?

Jimmie Durham (Visual Artist, Berlin/Rome) Wikimedia Commons.

The Walker Art Center is once again getting questioned about its ability, or inability, to engage with Native artists and Native communities.

This time it involves the exhibit: “Jimmie Durham: At the Center of the World,” which opened June 22. MPR’s story: Walker faces new Native art controversy, says Durham identifies as Cherokee heritage, a fact disputed by enrolled members of the Cherokee nation. “… his critics say he is not Native, and is hurting artists who are.”

Issues of identity and “who is Indian” raise thorny questions. It’s easy to get sidelined in those questions and ignore the bigger one. The issue here is the same as with Scaffold.¬† Does the Walker have inclusive and representative staffing in place — and the ability to listen to Native voices and collaborate with Native artists on these issues?

I am less interested in whether or not Durham is Cherokee as I am with how the Walker engages in the conversation about whether or not Durham is Cherokee — including various¬† Native perspectives on that question. Will the Walker seize this moment for a more robust engagement with Native artists, elders, and communities? Will it continue to engage after the Durham exhibit leaves, or will the conversation disappear like invisible ink? Continue reading