The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum

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Important Update

August 25, 2006 to February 25, 2007 |

No Reservations: Native American History and Culture in Contemporary Art

The history and culture of the indigenous peoples of North America is deeply imbedded in, and has had a tremendous influence on, American identity, its potent legacy spreading worldwide to become integral to modern global culture. Contemporary America has a complicated relationship with the history, beliefs, spiritual traditions, and art of Native peoples, with "Indians" still widely romanticized by the culture at large, while the legacy of the European colonization of the New World continues to exact a toll on the surviving Native population. The first decade of the twenty-first century, however, has witnessed a subtle shift, with Native Americans experiencing unprecedented economic gains and a marked decrease in their marginalization.

No Reservations brings together five Native and five non-Native artists, whose work speaks of the complexity and contradictions of Native historical and cultural influences in the present day. The exhibition does not include artists who are attempting to maintain strict traditions, but, rather, focuses on artists who engage the larger contemporary art world and are not afraid to step beyond circumscribed limits. The ten artists represent a generation that has come of age in the decades following the initial Native rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s. This generation is reflected in artwork that often does not look "Indian," but rather incorporates Native content in surprising and innovative ways that defy easy categorization.

No Reservations has been based on the premise that the influence of Native culture and history is pervasive and has acted as an inspiration for a diverse group of artists, resulting in work that explores the situation from multiple vantage points that are equally valid. The non-Native artists who are included in the project primarily focus on the history of the European colonization of America and the resultant dislocation and genocide as subject matter. They utilize this history as a means to investigate broader issues regarding the nature of the American character, and the ways that cultural and historical assumptions cloud our view of both past and present.

The import of organizing No Reservations in the East, and particularly in Connecticut, cannot be overstated. The Aldrich Museum is located in a region where European colonization initiated the first truly organized genocide of Native peoples. The Pequot, of eastern Connecticut, were the first tribal group living in the land that would become the United States to be systematically eliminated. This history, combined with the rebirth and economic success of the Pequot nation in the last twenty-five years, creates a significant social landscape in which to present this exhibition. Early in 2004, the Bureau of Indian Affairs officially acknowledged the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation of western Connecticut, paving the way for not only federal aid, but also the prospect of a casino in the city of Danbury, literally in The Aldrich's backyard. In an unprecedented move, federal recognition was revoked in 2005 following a suit filed by the attorney general of Connecticut. As this exhibition opens, the Schaghticoke are suing one of the biggest names in Washington lobbying, Barbour Griffith & Roger, which has been working with the residents of Kent, Connecticut, which borders the Schaghticoke's 270-year-old reservation. The suit charges the firm with "harmful interference with its recognition," alleging improper secret communication with the Interior Department, which oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

No Reservations is an exhibition, however, not a political polemic on the past and present injustices inflicted on Native Americans. Still, one of the definitions of politics (and perhaps the most profound) is "the total complex of relations between people living in society." This deep level of politics is the thread that connects the work in this exhibition, and the link between these works and the world at large. Clearly, Indians for better or worse are embedded inside one of the most powerful, and often more historically-forgetful, nations on earth. All the art gathered here hints at, and in many cases demands, a way forward-while clearly remembering the past, not only for those that are indigenous to this land, but also for the rest of us who are not.

- Richard Klein

Artists included in the exhibition: Matthew Buckingham, Lewis deSoto, Peter Edlund, Nicholas Galanin, Jeffrey Gibson, Rigo 23, Duane Slick, Marie Watt, Edie Winograde and Yoram Wolberger

Curated by Richard Klein, Exhibitions Director


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