The Walker Art Center has issued a Call to Indigenous Artists to submit proposals for a new work for the Sculpture Garden. This follows the 2017 controversy over Scaffold, a sculpture that triggered strong protests from the Dakota, Minnesota’s original peoples. Continue reading
[Update: The headline and parts of this blog have been updated after the Mia requested corrections and clarifications. First, it’s Oyate Hotanin that is organizing this event, the Mia is hosting it by providing the space. It is part of the Mia’s broader mission: to “create a space that welcomes Native people, and hold events that get Native people interested in attending.” Second, the Mia wanted it known this isn’t a conversation about Scaffold, “this conversation is about the state of Native American art within Western Institutions,” and the Mia is in no way making a statement “directly against the Walker and the Scaffold incident.”]
The following announcement was posted on the Minnesota Indian List Serve:
Friday, Jan. 26, 6-8 p.m.Minneapolis Institute of Art2400 3rd Ave. S. Minneapolis
Indigenous Estate [Oyate Hotanin] is the community response to the scaffold placed by the Walker in the sculpture garden and multiple incidents of invisibility and disregard of Native artists, narratives and images.
It is a series of conversations to engage community around the questions: Who governs identity and cultural appropriation? How do we navigate authenticity versus censorship? What is art in this reality? What is the role of the art world in responding? Is the art world complicit?
Join us for a reception at MIA with traditional storyteller Colin Wesaw. We invite you to join the conversation and shape this vision with us.
Oyate Hotanin Indigenous Estate Leadership Team
Nick Metcalf, Heidi Inman, Al Gross, Crystal Norcross, Thomas LaBlanc, Laura LaBlanc, Cindy Killion
The Star Tribune is reporting that Olga Viso is resigning as the Walker Art Center’s executive director effective at the end of the year.
Viso has led the Walker since 2008. No reason was given for her resignation. Her decision to step down comes after the Walker finished the multi-million overhaul of its campus and the Sculpture Garden. Her resignation also comes on the heals of the controversy over the sculpture Scaffold, a piece that was added to the new Sculpture Garden and ultimately removed.
Scaffold, a two-story tall sculpture, included seven different historic gallows; it was supposed to be a commentary on capital punishment. However, the sculpture’s most prominent feature was the gallows used to hang 38 Dakota men in Mankato in the wake of the 1862 Dakota-U.S. War — the largest mass hanging in U.S. history. Neither the artist nor the Walker thought to ask Dakota people for their reaction, and as soon as it was put up it was engulfed in controversy and protest.
Dialogue continues between the Dakota Community and the Walker Art Center as a follow-up to the controversy over — and ultimate removal of — the sculpture Scaffold. In this next phase, Dakota elders are calling on the Walker to create an American Indian Advisory Council as a permanent part of its healing work.
The following was posted on the Minnesota Indian List Serve by Ronald P. Leith, the designated spokesperson for the Dakota Nation’s Elders Council. (Leith is a Red Lake Nation/Mdewakantowan Dakota Lineal Descendant.)
Walker Art Center, Dakota Elders & Indian Community Conference for Reconciliation
Date: November 30, 2017
Time: 10:00 am – 2:00 pm
Place: Norway House, 913 East Franklin Ave., Mpls.
Since the dismantling of the Walker Art Center scaffold structure the Dakota Elders Council, along with the support of the Walker Art Center, has worked to remove and obliterate the wood that was used to construct the scaffold. This process is now coming to a end.
The Dakota Elders are now taking this opportunity to lead the process of reconstructing a damaged relationship between the Walker Art Center and the Dakota Community in particular and the Indian community in general.
The Elders Council has [said] several items they would like to present … reconciliation opportunities. One of which is the establishment of an American Indian Advisory Council to serve as permanent component to the WAC organizational infrastructure.
At this meeting the Dakota Elders Council will be calling for nominations for this advisory council. Continue reading
The wood from the controversial sculpture ‘Scaffold‘ will be buried, not burned, local Native leaders say. Several news outlets have provided accounts, including MPR and the StarTribune. According to the MPR story:
Tribal elders decided the original plan to destroy the work in a ceremonial fire at Fort Snelling was inappropriate, said Ronald P. Leith, a Dakota member who was involved in negotiations …
The Walker Art Center erected Scaffold earlier this year, a new addition for the reopening of its renowned outdoor sculpture garden. The work was supposed to be a commentary on capital punishment, a conglomeration of several historic gallows. But the sculpture’s most prominent feature was the massive gallows used to hang 38 Dakota men in Mankato following the Dakota-U.S. War of 1862.
Native people found Scaffold offensive and hurtful, as the hanging of the Dakota 38 (plus 2 additional hangings later at Fort Snelling) continues to be a deeply painful part of their history. A white artist did the piece and Dakota people weren’t consulted. Following the controversy, the Walker agreed to remove the sculpture.
The wood will be buried in an undisclosed location, a decision which reflects the issues that arose following the mass hanging.
“During 1862, when the original scaffold was dismantled and the prisoners were buried … there was a deluge of scavengers, grave diggers, that went after the wood — souvenir, hunter types,” said Leith. “We have a concern that if we were to disclose where the wood was going, we might see a repeat of that same thing.”
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
The Walker Art Center made the right decision when it agreed to remove Scaffold from its new Sculpture Garden, yet for some thorny questions of artistic freedom remain.
We get stuck in this debate when we see the decision to remove Scaffold as a referendum on artistic freedom. That polarizes people. Yes, we deeply value artistic freedom, yet we hold other deep values, too, like fairness and inclusion. When values don’t line up on a particular decision, we have a difficult choice to make.
So here’s the question: In the case of Scaffold, how would those of us who agree with removing the sculpture describe our deeper values, those that in this case override our value for artistic freedom?
Karen Hering is a consulting literary minister for Unity Church Unitarian in St. Paul and writes a blog called: “Writing to Wake the Soul.” She wrote a powerful reflection on the removal of “Scaffold” from the Walker Sculpture Garden. It is republished here by permission.
Taking It Down: A Sacred Call for Deconstructing Oppression
On June 2, 2017, over 300 people gathered in downtown Minneapolis on the grounds of the Walker Art Museum’s redesigned sculpture garden, not quite finished and not yet opened, to witness the ceremonial deconstruction of an installation titled “Scaffold.” Designed by artist Sam Durant, “Scaffold” was modeled after a gallows used to hang 38 Dakota men in Mankato, Minnesota in 1862, the largest public execution in the history of the U.S.. A week before the planned reopening of the sculpture garden, the Walker engaged Dakota elders in a conversation about “Scaffold” and its possible impact on local audiences. Protests immediately called for its removal, and within one week, the Walker had postponed the garden’s reopening, participated in an independently mediated conversation with Dakota elders and the artist, and agreed to dismantle the installation in a public ceremony planned and led by Dakota elders. Other posts on-line offer more information about the sculpture and its deconstruction.
This reflection is based on my experience of the June 2 ceremony, with the hope of sharing the sorrow, the power and the call of that day’s events. The quotes are all from Sheldon Wolfchild’s opening words, delivered before the sacred ceremony began (which we were asked not to record out of respect). The wooden structure required four days to dismantle; the “Scaffold’s” understructure of steel and cement was then broken down by the Walker and also removed.
Taking It Down: a sacred call for deconstructing oppression
June 2, 2017: It is a hot summer’s day. Sun high in the blue sky. A crowd of over 300 gathers, a drum beats, a song thrums. Sheldon Wolfchild, Dakota elder from the Lower Sioux Agency, addresses the crowd. He says:
This is a sacred process…. Let us remember what this historical truth has brought us.
Behind him a newly constructed wooden scaffold looms. Unlike the gallows built in Mankato in the dead of winter 155 years earlier, after which it is modeled, this one is solid and built to last. Its beams are treated to withstand all weather, its foundation is cement, its invisible supports made of steel. The photos of it published in the previous week do not begin to represent its ominous presence and menacing energy. Wolfchild continues:
This is a sacred process to dismantle negativity. Let us all work together in one prayer from the heart, not the mind, as our elders say. Continue reading
Here is the latest update on Scaffold, released June 5 on behalf of the Dakota elders:
The wood has been taken off the “Scaffold” structure by Straightline Construction led by Dakota construction workers. who worked over the weekend. All of the wood has been removed, and placed in rolloff bins that will be taken off site to a safe, secure location owned by the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board. The rest of the deconstruction work will be completed by a local company to take out the steel and the concrete. The steel will be recycled.The process of taking the rolloff bins off site began this afternoon.The signs are taken off the fences and those who made them can request them back. (American Indian Center)The main focus was to get the structure down.Now the main focus will shift to what happens to the wood.Recognizing that more people from the Dakota community wish to participate in this process and it takes time to call a meeting, there is no elder meeting this week regarding the next steps for the wood. They wish to take time, slow down and allow more voices.Until the larger Dakota Oyate is able to meet, there will be no actions except to keep the wood stored in a safe, secure location owned by Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.Therefore,1) there is no formal ceremony at Fort Snelling this week.2) there is no formal burning of the wood from the sculpture this week.In the end, the elders may decide that the wood should not go to Fort Snelling, The elders may decide that the wood from the sculpture should not be burned and instead should be used/disposed in some other way. Or they may choose to proceed. But this decision will be made it their way and their time at the site of their choosing.
The Dakota Oyate from Minnesota and those in exile seek an opportunity to weigh in and make decisions in an attempt to create participation first and to then build consensus.
An unacknowledged aspect of the controversy around the Walker Sculpture Garden’s Scaffold is the Dakota elders’ leadership in resolving the conflict.
Consider the context. All native people have lived with generations of shame and humiliation from the broader society, from Indian mascots to boarding schools and broken treaties.
In this context, the Walker begins to erect the massive Scaffold, depicting several historic gallows. The most prominent feature replicates the gallows used to hang 38 Dakota men in Mankato in 1862. Neither the Walker nor Sam Durant, the artist, thought to talk to Dakota leaders. The sculpture is not only a painful reminder of their worst moment in history, it also shows they are invisible to the broader community, powerless to affect these decisions.
That’s a heavy burden. Yes, there was anger and hurt in the Dakota community. But in the end, Dakota elders led a healing ceremony with all parties in the circle.
Some have praised Durant and the Walker for agreeing to mediation and ultimately the sculpture’s removal. Yes, Durant and the Walker did the right thing — but they were fixing problems of their own making.
In the typical narrative, the Dakota are portrayed as aggrieved victims. It needs to be stated clearly: the Dakota elders were exemplary leaders. They spoke of bringing “positive energy” to the Garden. The Dakota had no institutional power. Their power and leadership came from their moral authority on this issue, which resonated with many of us in the community, both Native and non-Native peoples.
We will have to wait and see what emerges from the Dakota-Walker collaboration moving forward. Meanwhile, there remain important issues to reflect upon. One is how to talk about cultural appropriation, the other is removing the veil of the dominant narrative and acknowledging the leadership Dakota elders brought to the table. Continue reading