Accepted Paper:

Indigenous self-representation: Native American contemporary art and native curating  


Mylene Hengen (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales)

Paper short abstract:

American Indian self-representation, alongside “Native Curating” within U.S. tribal museums and cultural centers reflect a multi-layered presentation of the contemporary American Indian voice with through a desire to control their own identity through contemporary art and exhibitions involving their material culture, where indigenous knowledge is the primary voice and authority.

Paper long abstract:

The visual representation of the American Indian, from cabinets of curiosity to Boas' ethnographic displays with the use of comedic icons as sports mascots have affected the social reception of Native populations in the United States for centuries. Today, in the years following legal and social movements on the North American Continent, various legislations have been put into practice concerning collaboration with Indigenous communities in regards to sacred, traditional, and sensitive material caring within state and nationally funded institutions.

These movements have been slowly redefining the notion of the 'museum' and have allowed for American Indian populations to have increased control and authority over their own visual displays, as well as have a very singular voice in regards to their cultural patrimony. "Indigenous Curating" has risen, through collaborative exhibitions within ethnographic museums or institutions holding ethnographic collections, with increased numbers of Tribal Museums and Native American Cultural Centers where the contemporary indigenous voice is privileged.

Often, Contemporary Art is now presented and used by these native communities within exhibitions of their communities alongside 'traditional' ethnographic displays. "Native Curating" and the Native Voice is disparate and multi-layered, but through exhibitions within these native-run institutions, as well as the Contemporary Art of artists such as Erica Lord (Inupiaq/Athabaskan), the visual politic of the American Indian resonates of past injustices, cultural preservation, and social development and awareness. A view into "Native Curating" through various tribal museums, cultural centers, and contemporary works of art provide an insight into the layers of indigenous self-representation today.

Panel W010
Looking, seeing and being seen: connecting and controlling through visual representation