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Indigenous Artist To Artist, Part 2: We Choose Power


ADRIENNE KEENE: Welcome back to another episode of all my relations, we love you all so much and are so glad you've come to listen and learn with us again. So today we're talking to three badass Indigenous women in the art museum world. And we wanted to have this conversation to build off of our artist conversations from the last few episodes. We got the artist's perspective from our amazing guests in the last few episodes. But there's another important piece to the art world where historically a lot of gatekeeping, but also a lot of amazing things have happened, and that is museums. So I'm someone who studied Indigenous contemporary art as an undergrad. And I spent my campus job and summers interning in museums and trying to learn how to transform curatorial practices and museum spaces to be more welcoming and representative of Native cultures. And I'm definitely someone who still loves curating and I've curated two small exhibits at Brown. And I think there's like a ton of potential to create needed dialog and educate through museum spaces. But I also realized that we have a long way to go and a lot of ways

MATIKA WILBUR: today we have three different perspectives of the museum world. We have Jami Powell, who's Osage and the first Indigenous curator at the Hood Museum at Dartmouth, Kristen Dorsey, a Chickasaw fine arts jeweler and metal worker artist who is transitioning her career to become a curator. I don't know if that's public yet. And we also have Jaclyn Rossel, a citizen of the Navajo Nation who recently transitioned away from the Heard and is getting to an entirely new work and arts practice that we're excited to hear about today. So I just want to say welcome, relatives, sisters, thank you so much for being here. It feels like a real honor to get to spend time with you. And even though we're in the middle of a pandemic, this virtual space feels uplifting to me. So thank you for being here. [speaking Native language] I love you and appreciate you. And thank you for taking the time.

ADRIENNE: So I think we wanted to just start off by hearing from each of you, like, why were you or are you interested in the type of work that you do in museum and cultural spaces? And then what do you see as the challenges from your position where you are in your career, the challenges of these museum spaces? And in that sense, too, like we also since our our podcast is called All My Relations, kind of thinking about the ways that museums and curation fit into this idea of being in good relation. So that's like a multi-parter. But basically, why are you interested in this work? What do you see as the challenges? And then like any sort of thoughts around these ideas of museums and curation, fitting into the idea of being a good relation?

JAMI POWELL: Well, I'll go first, so I this is Jami and I grew up with my father being in the Navy, and so my mom is Osage. My dad's non Native. And he was in the Navy. So we moved around a lot, but spent summers at home in Oklahoma participating in our [] and being, you know, with family and relatives there. But when I was in elementary school, we lived north of Chicago and Chicago has some incredible museums. And so, you know, I would go to museums on the weekend with my families or we would go for field trips. And I loved museums. The Museum of Science and Industry was a place that really sparked my interest and curiosity. I loved the Field Museum where you could go and, like, go into a pyramid and, you know, be Indiana Jones, which is problematic in a lot of ways, too. But, you know, and so and I think it was fourth grade was like the one year where learning about Native Americans was part of the, you know, Illinois state curriculum. And so we went to the Field Museum, to the Native American Cultures Hall. And I was really excited because I had told my friends that I was Native American and they were like, no, you're not. You don't live in a teepee. You know, you don't look like a, you know, Pocahontas or like have a like a friend raccoon. And so we go to the museum and they have a case about Osage people and it's like Osage men's costumes and there's no representation of women. And the clothes that are on view are not the kinds of clothes that my that we wear today, even in, you know, our dances. And, you know, it was just like a really sad experience. And then my friends, where these kids in my class told me, like, well, it's because you're not a real Indian anyway. We don’t believe you. And it was just like this really kind of damaging experience for me. And so a lot of the reason, you know, the reason I got into museums is because I want kids to go into museums and feel like they're represented in meaningful and respectful ways and to like experience the kind of joy and curiosity, you know, that that can happen in museums and that should happen in museums and not those kind of negative feelings. So there's a lot of work to be done. Things are getting better, you know, but there's still like a lot of a lot of space for for growth.

MATIKA: I had the same experience at the Field Museum, but that was like three or four years ago when I was asked to do a show there and I walked in and there's those totem poles that are in the in the center house and, you know, they’re like still unnamed poles, you know, like some Haida artists or some Tsimshian artist. And then I went and, you know, walked into the Native area and they had these what we call []. We run [] for ceremony there, these paddleboards, and we don't really talk about it. It's not even something I would publicly talk about here and say this is why are we doing what it's for? Because it's super sacred and it's quiet. You know, it's something we do quietly. And those when you run [], those boards are taken there, put it back inside their box and they're putting it put away for good reason. And then those were just sitting there at the front of the exhibit. And I was like, oh, no, I cannot go. I cannot walk in here, you know, like, I literally turned around and walked in the other direction. And the person giving me a tour was like, Where are you going? I said, this is I can't go in here. This isn't appropriate. But, you know, that was a couple of years ago, so I can completely relate to that, Jami.

JAMI: Yeah, well, and I will say about the Field Museum, they, you know, have taken down the old Native American cultures hall, not the northwest coast, but the Native American, you know, the other part of the hall and have been working with, you know, a collaborative team and a Native or an Indigenous advisory group to reinstall that. And so, you know, there is, you know, some conversation happening there and some there's a great show there curated by Nina Sanders, Apsaalooke Women and Warriors that, you know, [] supported by Meranda Roberts, who's a curatorial fellow there. And so, you know, they're I don't want to just, like, bash the Field museum, you know, like super easy to do.

MATIKA: Right? Yeah. I actually really want to see that show. It looks really cool.

JACLYN ROSSEL: Yeah. My heart goes out to Nina and the team because it opened just like literally a week before everybody needed to be at home and shelter in place. So but it's such a feat in terms of just that, that monumental of an exhibit with contemporary Indigenous artists. Is there a a real like, world renowned institution? So big props to Nina and the team. So I can go ahead and jump in. [speaking Navajo] I am connecting in from the [], the lands of the [] people in Santa Ana Pueblo, its my partner's home in north central New Mexico. And it's where we raise our son and our family. And so I, I think listening to Jami's story, going back to where I found the magic and the interest in museums, I was a young kid in the interactive galleries of the Heard museum and waiting for my dad to finish up some consulting that he was doing as a photographer with the museum so I would just wait and play at all different museums all over the Southwest and all over the country as he would have these meetings. And so it was always a really exciting place to be to explore. I when I filled out my application for college, I knew that I liked, I knew that I liked art and I knew that I liked history. And so I just put the two together. I didn't know that art history was a thing I grew up in, like a rural rez kayenta. Shout out to all the, you know, [] Mustangs. And and my application came back with my major having been declared art history. And I was like, wow, it didn't get returned. I guess it's a thing. In college I loved sitting in the dark room, like watching slides drop, like on the old slide kodak carousels and just being like so taken by seeing the world through like through like the art of other cultures. And so I really loved art history and went into it because like my grandparents had actually helped build the new Navajo Nation Museum and library and archives on my rez. And so I grew up in a family that always like prided itself on the power of culture and like understanding. And like that there was value in like being proud of who we are as Native people, as a Dine person. And to me, there seemed to be such a direct correlation to like that and like museums. And so of all the things I wanted to do from like museums, like a magazine editor to like museum director to like astronomer, which I don't know who wants to be astronomer like that, all like math and like digits. And I realized it wasn't looking at the stars, but I realized that, like, the museums were like this really interesting place. And then I, like, begged for an internship at the Heard museum and got it. And it was like unpaid. I don't recommend this. But then it led to a paid position. And that just in itself was the way that, like, I was able to, like, grow with the help of another Dine woman who is really like a mentor to me in those early days because she really, like, created a pathway for me and like other I think, like Indigenous people who begin to like come into this space. And and so I really felt there was such this like beauty in museums of being able to work at an institution that in a lot of ways did things right in working with communities. Definitely had room to improve, as I learned over the course of my career there. But it was really I think the thing that attracted, attracted me to museums was the way that there was such an opportunity for learning because of this proximity and like a like proximity of privilege of people coming in with, like, no recollection or not even recollection, but also just not understanding Indigenous people at all. And I felt like that was such an interesting place to be. I like being a translator between institution and like my culture and people, not a spokesperson, but a translator. And I really found that place to be really interesting. And over the course of my time in museums, working on the inside also found them to be very problematic, filled with institutional racism, a lot of just white supremacy culture that was at work. And I transitioned out of museums to consult really because of that, because I was so burnt out. And so I think we also have to acknowledge how, yes, beautiful museums are, but how harmful they can be and taxing to Indigenous, black and POC community members.

ADRIENNE: Thank you.

KRISTEN: I can go. [speaking Chickasaw] Hi, my name is Kristen Dorsey. I'm from the Red Skunk clan and the Chickasaw Nation and I'm so happy to be with all of you today. And my I've always been oh, and I'm speaking to you from Tongva Land where I grew up, away from my tribal community in south central Oklahoma. And I when I was in college, I had the opportunity to intern with my tribes' cultural center before the building was actually constructed. And they were in the beginning planning phase of the exhibits and everything about the cultural center. And so I got to spend a whole summer working with different staff who were involved in all sorts of amazing cultural revitalization programs. I it was a way for me to really connect with the work that my tribe was doing around our language and our arts and our scholarship. And I met some really inspiring people. And so I think that really set me up to go on my way into the cultural center museum world space. And I've always been an artist my whole life since I was a small child. I would sit and draw for hours and I've always been very visual. I've always loved going to museums and staring at a piece for very, very long. My family would always leave me behind in the different rooms. And so I've just loved studying other art my entire life. And I think when you're so visual, you kinda create a visual memory for people's bodies of work and you learn to hone your own aesthetic as well. And so I went to school. I did a dual degree program with Tufts University and the school, the Museum of Fine Arts. And I was actually in the same area Adrienne was around the same time before we knew each other. And my research, I, I did Native studies through American studies. And for my thesis, I actually built a business plan for a jewelry company, but then also was researching our Mississippian techniques in metalsmithing because we have copper working that goes way back to our ancestors. And so I was I would always visit the Peabody Museum at Harvard and go into their collections and look at their books for my research. And I was also taking a lot of courses from my professor and still mentor, she’s like family, Joan Lester, and so she was teaching us to think critically about what the exhibits were saying and what they were actually teaching, and I remember one day I was at the Peabody and I was standing behind a mother and a small boy, and there were all of these mannequins of Native people and and they're like very stiff, very creepy looking mannequins. And I remember the little boy asked his mom, mom, are all the Indians dead? And I was standing right behind them. And I think that was kind of an aha moment for me. It really drove home the importance of changing that, like what you all have spoken about already. I think seeing my cultural center take shape in Oklahoma versus seeing the really antiquated exhibit about Native people at the Harvard Peabody and contrasting those at that time really informs the direction that I'm going.

JAMI: I think you bring up a really important point. I had a similar experience and a lot of this is because it's like the natural history museums where there are exhibits about Indigenous peoples and, you know, other and brown people. It's like brown people and animals next to the rocks are, you know, and we have and dinosaurs. And so, you know, I worked at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and they have this really interesting exhibit case about taxidermy animals. And a kid and his grandfather had clearly seen that and then went into the Native American Cultures Hall. And I heard this little kid ask his grandfather, Grandpa, you know, how those other animals were like stuffed animals? Are these stuffed dead Indians when he saw mannequins and you know, and so I think that's, you know, like you get to this really interesting point. And it's why a lot of us, I think, have this interest in contemporary art and the work that contemporary artists are doing, because we really have to, like, counter those, you know, problematic representations of Indigenous peoples only existing in the past, only existing, you know, as these historic beings who are like less than human. And so, you know, the, um, the history is important, too. And I think those of us who work within these spaces are trying to figure out ways to talk about that history, about like people aren't ready for that yet. They still need, like, the primer that like, hey, we're still here, you know? And so I think that's one of the one of the big challenges.

MATIKA: You actually helped us segue beautifully, Jami, into our next question. You know, and that's thinking about how the narrative shifts when the curator is a Native person versus a non-Native person or an Indigenous person versus a non-Indigenous person and how the power structure changes for me, you know, like I have the final show of Project 562 coming out at the Seattle Art Museum next year. And I am going to be the curator for the exhibition, which is like this massive shift that was required for because they don't have a Native curator on staff or any Native people in that sort of position. And I just said, like, I can't I cannot I cannot do that. So they they said, OK, well, you know, we'll let you curate the show. But that being said, you know, I have I can't tell you how many times I've been asked to do a show with Edward S. Curtis, you know, and I in fact, I did a show like that 15 years ago at the Seattle Art Museum where they said, hey, we really want to take we want we have this huge collection of Curtis images. We want to put up your work next to his so that you can be in dialog with him, with his work. And and I won't name all the other institutions that have asked me to do that, that I've had to politely decline. But I, I find that it's very it's not often it's very difficult for me to find entry into these spaces without it without it being, like, shown through the lens of a non-Native person, especially when we think about the board. You know, it's like it's one thing if there's a Native curator, but the board is usually not there's usually not Native people on the board, too. So that also makes this kind of a difficult experience for me as an art. And I wonder how you navigate that and think about that in and from your perspective.

JACLYN: Oh, I have some thoughts.

MATIKA: Easy question, no big deal.

JAMI: How much time do I have?

JACLYN: I think I think that to the first half of the the the question when I was at the Heard over the course of 11 years, there is two exhibitions that came from a tribal community museum and or was created by a community itself. So we're talking about over, I don't know, 80 I don’t know 60 exhibitions over 11 years, over a decade. And two of them came from the perspective of Indigenous people. One in particular was actually from the pueblo of Isleta and the power shift of doing so my role as director of museum and of Education, director of education and public programs was like thousands of things. Every every museum educator listening to this knows that there the the part of your job description that says other duties that may be required is like huge. It's long. But one of the things that I was in charge of was doing like walk through of different so training docent. So mostly training, about 98 percent of the docent corps is non-Indigenous people to talk in a way about Native people that was promoting at least a a contemporary, respectful, culturally aware view of Native people. And for the most part, like that was something that was well embraced. And I remember the walk through of the pueblo of Isleta show. And just being so inspired by the shift and the buzz of docents in that moment of the label, saying we, we and I, we and I believe in this and not they not they did this. They did that. They believe in this. These people did that. And like that, you can't you can't bottle up the power in like being able to speak for yourself. And the other exhibit was a Dine photography exhibit that came from the Navajo Nation Museum. That was a kind of a survey of contemporary youth, mostly youth photographers. And it was the same thing of like, this is my grandmother. This is like labels being incorporated in their own language. And so there's I think there's so much power and it's really difficult to underscore, like how much of a difference that makes in the consciousness of people who are the visitors who are taking in the material, who are taking in like the the like the subject matter of the impact, like they're able to identify it in a real way. The other part of your question is there is a huge problem that's not talked about enough because of the insidious nature of having collectors who sit on every Native arts museum’s board who are making, if this were any other industry, this would be insider trading. They're the ones who make decisions about their own collections, their friends' collections, who get to choose what gets on display and what doesn't. And that is why we are seeing the same things. That's why we're seeing and have, you know, problematic conversations that don't happen when we're talking about the unethically acquired material that a lot of these collectors have, because we know that these things, they may not be required by NAGPRA to be repatriated, but they are sacred. They are significant. Everything we do as Indigenous people is we believe that breath is breathed into things. So we're not just creating a rug or a blanket or hair comb. It's something that is meant to serve its purpose and give significance. And so it's that is something that's not being portrayed and it's still something that is not being addressed like in the Native arts field as a whole. And it's something that I think we're going to have to reckon like with like in the in the next few years.

KRISTEN: I think, Jaclyn of all of your points. Yes, absolutely. And I think another huge issue around that is that Native art exhibits seem to be put in natural history museums over and over again. They're not put in places like the Met and major, main quote, mainstream museums, and that's a huge issue, and they're not included in places like Art Basel or prestigious art collecting for, quote, mainstream contemporary art. And I remember back when I was a student and visiting New York, I saw this incredible Native jewelry exhibit that was so powerful and it was really well done. And it was at the Natural History Museum. And I was thinking, why is this here in this museum? Like I was with a group of-

JAMI: That’s two of their strengths, rocks and Indians.

KRISTEN: Yeah and like I was with a group of friends and I opted to go. We didn't have much time before the museum closed because we were always late. And I opted I opted to go see this exhibit. And then they all went to go see the butterfly exhibit. And it's just like, what the F? That was another really big aha moment for me. And then we see that over and over again or Native artists got pigeonholed into smaller museums that exhibit Native art, but are not we're not able to break out of that. We're always attached to these stereotypes when they're non-Native board members, non-Native museum directors and non-Native curators.

JAMI: Yeah, and I think that the problem is that, you know, both, you know, Native curators, but Native artists too are constantly trying to meet expectations that people have of what Native art should look like, what a Native show should be, what kinds of conversations we should be having, you know, and so and I think this you know, this ties to to the the thing, Matika, you mentioned about the Edward Curtis show is that it's always like in reference to these colonial structures that we're always having to like either argue with them, disprove them, you know, grapple with them. But the thing that I've been thinking about lately, and they're you know, now that there are more, you know, Indigenous curators and Indigenous women curators in the field, we're starting to think more about indigenizing rather than decolonizing. And so with decolonizing, which is super helpful, it's, you know, Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s work, I think has been something that has been central to my work, but probably all of our academic work and Amy Lonetree’s work “Decolonizing Museums” opened up really important conversations. But it's still kind of this de colonizing. You're still, like, centering, you know, colonizing within those conversations. So for me, you know, my curatorial practice, I'm thinking about, well, what does indigenizing a museum space look like and how is that different from decolonizing? And for me, that's you know, I will likely never have a show that I don't have a curator on. I always have, you know, a curatorial fellow or an intern who's working as my co curator. Their name is included on the project. Their name is listed in a publication, you know, because they're helping do the work to you know, that they're you know, when I write labels, I invite other people to participate in those conversations. You know, when I write a label, I, I usually ask questions or think about possibilities. This, you know, I think there's an expectation people have about going into a museum and like being told what to think. And that's not actually very useful. And so, you know, how do we I have a show up now at the Hood Museum here at Dartmouth that opened to the public the same day we closed to the public. So I have been jokingly calling it the show no one's ever going to see, oh, but it's called it's called Form and Relation: Contemporary Native Ceramics. And, you know, one of the the questions I put I posed a series of questions in the introductory panel, and it's like, how do we acknowledge our shared humanity? How do we think about our relationship to place in terms of relationality not in terms of extraction or ownership, and then I ask questions in the labels, because I'm not trying to tell people what to think, you know, especially like New England, audiences don't want me to tell them what to think. They want to, you know, they know what they want to think. And, you know, so it's like the this constant battle of like, OK, here's what people need to know. But how do you, like, meet them where they're at and, you know, facilitate a dialog and a conversation that helps people get there on their own is is like a challenge that I enjoy about museum work.

ADRIENNE: Jami, just hearing you talk like that is the power of having an Indigenous person in that role, like you're thinking about building relationships with younger generations so they can also take on these roles and like be in these spaces. You're thinking about the relationship to place and how to frame questions like those are things that don't necessarily happen with a non-Native curator. So I think that is really powerful. And I love Jaclyn, how you talked about the like, switch from we to I or from like they to like we and I and the power of that, too. And the last thing, Jami, that you were talking about in terms of audience is something that I'm really curious to hear from all of you in terms of the curatorial work in a museum has to serve so many different audiences in terms of like there's going to be the non-Native folks who are walking in who think that they're going to be walking into like a mannequin like museum exhibit of Indians or whatever who know nothing. And then there's Native folks who like want to see themselves reflected, want to learn about other communities, whatever it is. But at the same time, the values and practices of a museum are completely created by like a white Western model. The idea that, like the art has to be in certain ways on the walls, the idea that there has to be labels, the idea that you're supposed to be all quiet and reverent as you like, move through the space, all of these things. So I would love to hear from you. It's about how you think of who you're curating for and how you kind of navigate those tensions between wanting to speak to multiple audiences in that space.

KRISTEN: I was actually just talking about this with Mercedes Dorame, who is this Tongva photographer and installation artist. And we were talking last weekend actually about this exact question. And, um, and it it's super complicated and it can be very tricky because there is so much knowledge that the general public does not have about Native people in general. And so your work has to be to, on one hand, just teach that this artist is part of a tribal community that exists in the first place. Mercedes said, like, I'd love to be able to tell someone that I'm Tongva and not get a blank stare back and return because that that's step one. And as an artist who's exhibited my work and marketed my own work, no one that I encountered knew who my tribe was either. And so there there's a lot of basic knowledge that needs to be addressed and a lot of truth telling about history that is important to address. But then on the other hand, we were talking about, well, what how can curation and how can these projects actually benefit the artist and benefit the community? Because Mercedes told me, like, I feel accountable towards my own community when I'm presenting my work because there's so little representation in the public sphere and people's minds. And so it's an interesting tension to have and it's something that I don't have the answer to. But I think it's a question that you have to keep asking yourself as you plan exhibitions.

ADRIENNE: Yeah, I mean, I think there's such an opportunity where it could be a place where you, like, really unsettle the settler visitors, you know, where they're suddenly thrust into an environment where they feel out of place and a little bit unsure of things like how a lot of Native people feel walking through like a traditional kind of white Western museum. But there's all the challenges of like wanting to also, you know, not alienate people like bring people in, that kind of stuff, I think it's just really an interesting thing to me.

MATIKA: Yeah, well well, I was going to say what prompted this conversation in this question was I was telling Adrienne and of how it's really interesting to see and for me to see how my work exists in these places. So at one time, I was I was having a show at this natural museum and I brought a bunch of my students and they were looking at the pictures on the walls and we were laughing and making jokes. And, you know, it was like 20 kids from the rez. It was loud. We were having a lot of fun. And the docent kept saying, I'm sorry, could you guys please be more quiet? And at one point, somebody in the museum came over to me and said, you know, I would really appreciate it if you guys could just, you know, like be less disruptive. And I said I would normally say yes, but since, you know, like, this is my exhibition. I'm Matika. This is my show. I feel like I'm allowed to be as loud as I want. And they were like, oh, I'm so sorry, you know, but, you know, like that these sort of things happen, you know, like where I you know, I feel like in the times that I've brought groups of students to these places, they felt you could tell that they were active, like very uncomfortable, and they knew that the space wasn't for them. And how do we how do we shift that? You know, how do we change that? I know like in Tulalip where I'm from, we've created our own museum and there's a lot of community things that happen there. Like there was a longhouse that was built. And you can go there several times a week and you can learn to bead or you can learn to, you know, like weave cedar or there is there's lectures that and it's all for community. And it's amazing how different it feels in that space versus going to some other spaces, you know? And so I just I really wonder, like when you're curating these exhibitions and you finally get to this place where you can create a contemporary Native art exhibition, what is it like when Native audiences interact with the space?

JAMI: Yeah, I think one of the you know, you definitely got that right that, like, these spaces weren't built for us. Right like when museums were brought into existence here and were being built, like they were being built with our things in them because we were no longer going to exist. And so they would have a record, you know, of Indigenous people. And so we certainly aren't supposed to be in these places as visitors, certainly not, you know, as curators or, you know, hopefully one day directors. And I think that tribal museums, I spent a lot of time at the Osage Nation Museum growing up. My aunt was the director of the Osage Nation Museum. And it was like a space where people go in and visit and drink coffee. And like, you know, when Black Panther came out, all of my curator friends were like, did you see she had coffee in the gallery? And I was like, That's what you're like that's what you got out of Black Panther, cool story.

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JAMI: Yeah. So, you know, not only did they miss the point, but, you know, it also brings up this thing that, like, we like to eat, we like to feed people, we like to visit in museums. Never have like you can't have food and I understand why you can't have food. But there's also never anywhere to sit, you know, because it's like they don't want you to stay. They don't want you to spend time. And, you know, I think that's because we've, you know, in Western institutions, art objects are art, they're objects. You look at them. Whereas within a lot of communities, you know, the work that's in these places are relatives they are beings like we should spend time and visit with them. We should be able to leave offerings for them. And, you know, that's not something that is comfortable for, you know, people who work in museums. I was, you know, recently having a conversation with a large institution and the museum director came on and, you know, we were as an advisory board, we're saying like, oh, well, you know, these are things you should consider. And the director said, well, we just we don't want to make our public feel uncomfortable. And I I said, well, what part of your public? Because there are, you know, like BIPOC folks who have always been uncomfortable in these spaces. So maybe, you know, white folks should join us and feel discomfort because it can actually be really productive, you know, because look at all of the things that have come from limitations, you know, look at the beauty that has been created even in times of extreme, you know, limitation and warfare even and genocide, that, like Native people have still created beautiful things and continued traditions and maintained ceremony like that's really productive. And for a lot of folks there, for the first time ever, experienced discomfort, experiencing discomfort or feeling threatened by the government. And it's like, yeah, some people have lived their whole lives feeling that way. You know, we're, come join us. Come sit with us in this uncomfortable place.

MATIKA: I just want to acknowledge what you just said about snacks. First of all about snacks, you know. Oh, I get it. But could we talk about snack, snacks in museums? Like, I just like I always it's always a thing, but I like I feel more comfortable with I have snacks with me, you know, but I know about artifacts and or things being alive, you know, like when we carve a mask, which I've only done once. But my teacher told me that as you're as you're, you know, carving into the cedar tree, you remember that it comes from the tree people. And as we transform it, we're giving it a new spirit. And as that spirit comes alive, we feed it. And you have to remember that this doesn't this is not a spirit that wants to be put on the wall. The spirit wants to be put on and danced and presented to the people. And you have to feed the spirit of this mask. You know, you need to sage it off and burn cedar for this mask. And and you have to reintroduce him when you bring him out to the people, you know, and and that that's your responsibility as you since you've given this life, you know. And and so when I put up a new exhibition in a new space, I'd like to go in and like smudge it off, you know, and feed that and like feed the spirit of the exhibition. And I can't tell you how many times, like, curators have been like, what are you doing? You can't burn anything in here. You're going to set off the smoke alarms. It's you know, it's the whole thing. It's and I it's it's remained a whole thing, you know, like, it's difficult to be able to do that. Sort of like sometimes I've had to pretend like I was lighting the smudge and then just sort of like waft it with no smoke. But, you know, that there's there's this relationship that we're supposed to have as caretakers of these of these things. And and sometimes it's strange to not be able to do that. I don't I don't I I'm really reminded of that. When you have that story that I was told, you know, a long time ago by actually George David told me that story. So.

JACLYN: Yeah. So I think that I'm at this place where my attitude is very like, I don't owe you anything. And just being very unapologetically Dine or Indigenous, depending on the space and like where I'm brought to consult on or what I'm invited I like to be, yeah, a thought partner in and on. And that was a that was part of the reason for like stepping away from museums for myself was just really to choose myself, because I had uh, there was a lot of cost like personal cost that that I had to like endure during my time. And so I I think that this point I'm interested in institutions backing black Indigenous POC curators, museum educators like who are talking about this, imagining of like what this new world is going to look like and how we can shape it. It's going to require white curators and white museum professionals to step out of the way to like relinquish like the power that they've been holding for decades. And I think that that is going to be a truly transformational just phase like of museums going forward. And so I'm I'm really excited about the future because there are small steps that are moving that. And I think that over the course of this transition and like how far things have have continued to improve, it's become more and more apparent that there there is an opportunity for just reimagining what the relevance of museums are, especially now like in a like like whenever the post pandemic, like whenever we get to like like PP like post pandemic, like I'm really interested in like how museums are shaping. I posted an article on Facebook the other day and like there have been a lot of like for every field there's a lot of like mutual aid efforts that are happening and there are national institutions that are trying to raise mutual aid for their furloughed like colleagues, for people who have lost their jobs and been terminated during this time and the amount of money that most institutions are raising is like only a quarter of the percentage of what the actual amount of money that the institution itself is raising for their own funds to keep lights on, to keep all this in that. And it's really disgusting. Like that is like one of the power dynamics that exists, like with in museums. And so I'm really interested about looking forward in terms of just how we move towards it's this merging of like Indigenous and decolonized liberatory, like lens, like museums. That is much more of what Jami described of this like community center. But I think that's the conversation that museum, the museum field as a whole has been trying to understand if like what is their place as a third and fourth place, like in our society and like, what does that look like and mean? And and now because of this pandemic and like this like reckoning with race, like, what does that look like? You know, is it like it's not even a fifth place. It's like this other like Wakanda. Right, that we're trying to create.

ADRIENNE: What are some, like promising practices or exhibits that you think have been done really well? Or Jami, like, what are some things that you're trying to bring into your job in new ways? Or, Kristen, what kind of work do you hope to do moving forward? So what good work is happening or could be happening in these spaces?

KRISTEN: I've been fortunate to, I guess, freelance curate and not be beholden to a specific institution so far because of that, the projects I've worked on have felt really liberating and empowering. One of those projects was with Jaclyn and we co curated matriarchs and Matika was featured in it. We really had full creative power over that project and the museum offered its space to us and the staff supported the work that had to get done. And I think we achieved something in the future direction that we want to go in. And when we were curating that show, we it was a collective curation effort between Jaclyn and myself, but also between ourselves and the artists that were in the exhibit. And there was a lot of consultation and discussion with the artists about which pieces they wanted to contribute. We gave them the general concepts that we were hoping to discuss through the artwork, and then it was a collaborative curation. That's how I viewed that process. I also wanted to give the artists approval over what we were writing about them and what information we presented about them. And I think it's things as simple as running that text by them if they want to review it and approve of it, something that I had never received as an artist in participating in exhibits before. And then I get to the exhibit and there'd be an edit that would need to be made but the label was already printed. The other curation project I've been involved with is a completely Chickasaw artist run project called Visual Voices, and it's currently traveling. It's an exhibition of fifteen Chickasaw artists and there are five of us who are board members, who are all Chickasaw artists, who have the final say and we structured it to have power over creative decisions and content decisions and we wanted to be impartial. So we brought in outside two outside curators as well and a project manager to manage such a big undertaking. But for many people, we knew that this would be their first introduction to our tribe. And so we were able to tell that story in our own words, but had a few successful openings at the Mississippi Museum of Art and MoCNA in Santa Fe and the Fred Jones. But also going back, we we did shop it around to lots of other larger museums, and we had hoped to get into more, quote, mainstream museums that don't typically exhibit Native art. And so I think there's still that question - how do we, how do we create something that empowers our own artists and how do artists benefit from these exhibits? Something I'm always interested in.

JAMI: That brings up a really great transition to something I wanted to talk about, which is money and like paying artists, you know, I now have this position. I'm at an institution that has really incredible resources. And one of the things that I was told when I came to Dartmouth was, if it's for students, the answer is almost always yes. And so, like my director calls me the crazy cat lady of interns, because I always have like four or five interns and my colleagues have one. But I'm like, if a Native kid wants to work in a museum or in the cultural field or is a studio artist and wants to, like, experience what museums are like so they have a, you know, kind of inside understanding of these spaces. And if I have the resources to do it, why wouldn't I? But also, you know, like the show that I just opened Form and Relation, I made a commitment. There are six artists in the show and I made a commitment to acquire a work by each of the artists, a significant work for the exhibition and not just borrow works. And I had site specific commissions. I also talked to some of the artists and said, you know what, I have space and I have resources. Is there something that you have been wanting to create but haven't had, you know, the the support to create? How can I facilitate that? But I think it's and whenever I talk to folks, too, they're like, well, you know, what should we be doing? And I'm like, you should be paying artists. You should be acquiring artists, not just inviting them to give a talk or asking to borrow their work that you need to make a commitment to them, you know, that helps support this work and that's sustainable, too. I think sustainability is something I've been thinking about a lot lately, you know, and I think it's like everything we have these complicated like our lives are very complicated right now, but we have this moment where, like I would normally be, I'm calling in from the library at Dartmouth, but I would normally be calling in from home and my kids would probably interrupt or, you know, you would see like that my house is not always the cleanest or, you know, like I'm not just a curator, but I'm a mom. I'm a partner. I'm a daughter and a sister, I’m a granddaughter. I'm an auntie and a teacher and a mentor. And like I take all of these roles really seriously. And I'm one person. I shouldn't have to compartmentalize all of this. And so I think our current moment has kind of opened up a space for us to be humans and to exist as humans in our professional roles in academia and in museums that might, you know, have some some positive impact, you know, after this, you know, we move beyond this really difficult moment that we're sharing.

ADRIENNE: Yeah, I love that thinking of like the like we're always in webs of relation and you can't take that away from a work in a museum that all of those pieces come from communities that are in webs of relation. All of those artists are in webs of relation

MATIKA: I’m invited to shows weekly where they don't want to pay me. They don't want to pay me to speak. They don't want to or they don't want to acquire the art. They want to pay me to speak about the art, you know. And so those are two big things that I really, like, take issue with institutions. And I keep telling them, like there is no amount of exposure that's going to pay my mortgage, my mortgage, you know. So thank you for the for the exposure, but it's not going to help. It's not going to help me be a stable person. And I can't make art if I'm not a stable person. So please stop asking me to to give you things for free. And I've had to become a really I've tried to become very serious about that. Well, and it's hard too because sometimes it's your friends. So, like, I have a buffer now, you know, like I don't ever like I just I don't even receive the email until after my assistant has vetted it and said they're going to pay your normal fee. And usually if they won't pay my normal fee, I never even see the email, you know, so it's like that's where I'm at now. But, you know, it took a really long time to get there. And for years I did favors for institutions who, you know, it was really painful, I think, looking back on it. And so I won't I don't, I try really hard not to do that anymore. But that's also a position of privilege, you know, because it's really hard to get into these institutions. It's not an easy thing to be shown in national museums. And so there's that, too.

JACLYN: And I have to say one more thing about money, I think that is an interesting thing that happens when we have to also recognize that while there are most institutions that don't pay artists for their work in terms of like buying, purchasing it for their collection, what tends to happen a lot is collectors then sometimes donate, but then also museums purchase collections from collectors of work. So we're thinking about the distribution of funds and like money. Oftentimes it goes back into the hands of collectors and not the hands of Native artists. So like there's also this other we're talking about equity and like who gets paid, that's another layer in terms of like who takes money out of the hands of Native artists. And then also I think that very few collectors actually understand the value of Native art. So whether we're talking about traditional like art, even contemporary art, that there's a lived experience that is part of the making of the art that is not being compensated for or is always called into question when a particular price is put on a piece and that is not the worth of it like that is what's said. Like that's not the value of what that piece is, but it's if you're a non-Indigenous person, who are you to say with the value of a piece is when it when a price also considers like an entire culture, like transference of knowledge and like legacy that happens? I think that that's also something that we're talking about, disconnect of like values and lack of equity. That's something to consider too. Switching gears to the best practices, I think one of the examples of best practice that I was really just excited to see was the Hearts of our People: Native Women Artists exhibition. That was just like a monumental contemporary exhibition that was curated by Teri Greeves an Indigenous artist and the way that that was installed with care, kind of. Inside out with, like what Jami was talking about, like there were places for people to give offerings to different artworks in that show that it was acknowledging this live spirit of the pieces that were part of that exhibition, which it first showed at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, that was the organizing institution. And they I have a lot of respect for their team in terms of the way they're looking at equity as a whole and other work that they're doing. So that's a, I think, a great example of best practice. That particular formation of like offerings for that space was unique to like homeland communities of that area because of the relationships that were built by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, like with their homeland communities as partners. And I happen to know that because I was doing docent training for the second institution and they were navigating just conversations about, well, what does their practice look like that could mirror that, but not copy it? Because MIA was very much like this is something we came up with for this installation in this community, in this space. So I think that's something that's also important, is recognizing that something that fits for one community may or may not and likely won't fit for another community.

MATIKA: Um, I actually wanted to wrap up by asking you guys to talk a little bit as mothers, you know, you guys are all moms. I'm a new mom, tou you, Kristen and Jaclyn just had a baby. Jami, I understand you're a mama, too. And I'm if you could think about it from that perspective of how you hope to shape the future of the museum world, of the art world, of access to the art world for your little ones and for the next generation.

KRISTEN: Well, Brynn was born into an exhibit for matriarchs. Jacqueline and myself were both pregnant when we were planning that exhibit. Fortunately, I didn't have to give birth in the exhibit. I gave birth to her two months before the opening of the exhibit. So any time I was talking to an artist or doing a meeting on Zoom or something, I was probably breastfeeding and I was doing interviews while breastfeeding her in the exhibit and just in facilitating public events there while breastfeeding, there's a trend there. When I brought her to the exhibit, she it was really special because I could even when she was a tiny baby, she loved, loved Jamie Okuma’s Cradleboard piece, and there are certain pieces that she would just stare at. And it's really interesting to watch her visual preferences take shape from such an early age when she was just months old. And to be in the presence of these powerful works from Indigenous femmes I think was a really great start for her, in my opinion, and I'm thankful for that. But I want her to be able to walk into a space when she's older and to feel empowered and to be comfortable, to be herself and to, um, to be able to see our community in that space and to feel welcomed.

JAMI: Yeah, I have two boys, Grayson and Callum, they're eight and four, and I got pregnant my first year of my PhD program with Grayson and was terrified that I was like, oh, of course, like the I’m like the Indigenous woman, like getting pregnant and I'm not going to finish school and like, you know, but I had people supporting me. I had a cousin who came out and lived with me to help take care of Grayson when he was little. I would go to class with like to my grad seminars with Grayson and nurse him when I needed to or this past week. And one of my mentors, Jenny Tone-Pah-Hote, who was just absolutely incredible passed and I would sit in her office and nurse while we talked about art. And so, like the. My kids have grown up in these spaces and they feel comfortable. I was pregnant with Callum and in the Field Museum doing work on their collections, on stage collections, there did a lot of smothering, you know, with him, but they're fascinated by museums and I think museums are great places, we have great memories in museums, and I want everyone, like all kids, to be able to have that. I want them, you know, but that's because I get to go to museums for free because I work at a museum or, you know, like museums need to be accessible. They need to be open. They need to be welcoming. And we have a lot of work to do in order to facilitate that. And we also need to you know, I know how to advocate for myself now. And I know, you know, I hope to teach my kids how to advocate for themselves in a respectful way, you know, but that, you know, a lot of people are intimidated by these spaces. And so how do we how do we make them places where people feel comfort, you know, like we should be challenged and feel grief or joy or, you know, other things or like we shouldn't ever feel shame or violated. And so that's really what I what I hope to do.

JACLYN: My son, Abraham, he was with me as I was working back and forth, I was commuting between here and San Diego to work with the Museum of Man. And it was an incredible and incredibly hard journey because I had worked in museums that really didn't have a lot of ancestral remains, that had a lot of like just working like the Museum of Man has been actively for the past few years, like really repairing relationships with different communities. But they were still in process. So I was very acutely aware of carrying my son and and be not and and just like hearing my grandmother's voice of like knowing I really wasn't supposed to be there. And yet at the same time, remembering just when I told her when I was younger that I was going into museums and the protection prayer that we had for me and like my career, to be able to, like, have protection in these spaces. And I think about that a lot and in that place of really trying to help museums become more is really like the the service and the way I've been like working within, like, my business now, having moved out from being on staff at museums and within that, like, I want my son to feel welcomed when he's in spaces and just thinking about what his uncles have endured, like coming to like my shows and exhibitions and like have literally not been allowed in because of the way that they were dressed and the way that they were. And they weren't even dressed in like it doesn't matter likeike they they were my guests and were turned away. And so I want my son to feel welcome, like in these spaces, like moving forward. His dad is a very talented artist. We have traveled as a family, like all across the country as I've given trainings and different lectures at different institutions across the states. And and so he already has been exposed to museums, has played in interactive galleries, has put things together even as like a baby. And and I want him to continue to find the beauty in art, the beauty in culture and in learning about other people's culture, like through art and through museums. And so I, I there's a lot of that vision that I can help cultivate. But then there's a lot of them that I carry, like raising an Indigenous boy and him becoming an Indigenous man and just being, carrying hope, but maybe a little bit of fear about hope that what I'm doing is enough to create the world where him and other other black Indigenous like people of color like feel welcomed and safe in in museums and just our society as a whole.

ADRIENNE: Thank you all so, so much. Yeah, I'm just in awe of all of you and feel so honored to know you and like have seen the growth of your careers and lives and the birth of these beautiful babies and all of these things is just so. It gives me a lot of hope, like as someone who has had bad experiences in museums. It gives me so much hope to think about this powerful work being done. And I'm just so full of gratitude for the work that you have done and will do and in all spaces around art and museums as well. So I'm just so grateful for all of you.

KRISTEN: Yes, I'm grateful for you and Matika and bringing us together and being on this podcast and having this podcast in the first place, I think is just so powerful.

JAMI: It's such an important space too and I think it really kind of demonstrates that, like, we need to combat these things from all different angles and use different strategies and that there's space for all of our voices because they're different, too. And, you know. That like. That you're, you know, uplifting people in these conversations, thank you.

JACLYN: I also just got to think museums, because that's how we met, like that's how great they really literally like where how we met. And like that in itself is just so remarkable. So. Yeah, yeah.

MATIKA: [speaking Native language] friends are tuning into this special three part series, Indigenous Artist to Artist inspired by our friend Grace Bonney at Design*Sponge. Thank you, Grace, and to our friends in the series Waddie Crazyhorse, Pat Pruitt, J. Nicole Hatfield, Yatika Fields, Ryan Redcorn, Holly Nordlum, and from this episode, Jaclyn Roessel, Kristin Dorsey and Jami Powell. Thank you so much for joining us. It's been a great pleasure. As always, we realize that this is just a small selection of artist friends. And over here at all my relations, we remain committed to continuing to illuminate the work of Indigenous artists. In the meantime, we will link more Indigenous artists to follow, support and build relations in the description and on the gram, we invite you to tag other Native artists that really inspire you. Please stay tuned for our next series on Mauna Kea as we talk story with our Hawaiian relatives about the resistance and the uprising and how we can be good relatives to them right now. This podcast takes a lot of people to put it together. First, thank you, Teo, for the sound recording, editing, video editing, music and mastering. Same goes to Max Levin for the late night scoring and piano magic. Thank you to Ciara Sana for episode art, Kristin Bolan and Will Paisley for back of housework. And thank you to all of you for tuning in. And please consider supporting our podcast as we are listener supported. We have a patron and a direct link to donate at our website allmyrelationspodcast.com or if donating isn't possible right now, just giving us a subscribe and sharing this episode on your socials is super helpful until next time we send our love and good energy out to you wherever you are. Blessings, solidarity, aho.


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