MASSILLON – Upon entering the main gallery of the Massillon Museum, visitors will likely be struck by a large, vivid image of Chief Wahoo which is clearly visible across the room.
The rendering of an authentic Native American is juxtaposed with the old logo of the Cleveland Indians professional baseball team (renamed the Cleveland Guardians last year).
An image long debated by baseball fans and challenged by Native American groups, its artistic depiction provocatively helps tell the story of the plight of Indigenous peoples as part of a new exhibit, “Un-settling: A Story of Land Removal and Resistance”.
The exhibition opened earlier this spring and runs until May 22 at the museum in downtown Massillon.
The depiction of Chief Wahoo is just one of approximately 40 works – paintings, ceramics, photographs, textiles and mixed media pieces created by Native American artists of different generations.
The untitled piece made with acrylic, ink, and paper on canvas was created by Gregg Deal, a Colorado activist whose work “confronts stereotypes and uncomfortable stories,” the exhibit explains.
Deal’s work “specifically addresses the impact of Euro-American settlers who arrived in North America and sparked a traumatic period of war and disease, later forcing Indigenous peoples to settle on reservations controlled by the government,” the exhibit reads.
“Un-settling” describes the baseball team’s old logo as a “racist caricature of a Native American with bright red skin, a cartoonish smile and a feather in his hair – a dehumanizing portrayal of Native Americans as warriors savages of an ancient past”. “
Other images are more subtle or traditional. A few are just as evocative. Portraits of modern Native Americans are also on display.
Alexandra Nicholis Coon and Stephanie Toole, both of the Massillon Museum, said the exhibition aims to educate and enlighten viewers on the subject of Native Americans through works of art.
“Some of the artwork is more subtle and abstract and has a softer approach,” said Coon, the museum’s executive director. But “when you start to understand what it’s all about, it’s still very provocative and intense.”
Coon said Deal takes a “very punk rock” approach to his art and “challenges it all”.
Other artists and photographers include Dakota Mace, Hulleah J. Tsinhnahjinnie, Jesse Cooday, Melanie Yazzie, Natani Notah, Norman Akers and Will Wilson.
Toole noted that they are all affiliated with Native American tribes.
“Un-settling” reflects on when and how Native Americans fought oppression after a period of genocide that wiped out many Native communities.
In the 20th century, a shift in attitude celebrated Native American cultures as a uniquely American heritage, the exhibit explains.
Toole said the exhibit is multi-faceted in how it addresses this culture through storytelling and artwork while confronting the atrocities of centuries past.
“That’s why this exhibit is so powerful,” she said. “Because it focuses on this upheaval, this forced uprooting of people and the attempt to strip cultures that are unique to them.
“These artists are reclaiming through their art…that identity,” said Toole, the museum’s education and outreach manager.
“An American Sunrise”
Related museum programming includes Thursday’s 5:30 p.m. talk with Sundance, executive director of the Cleveland American Indian Movement, which worked for decades to change the name of the Cleveland baseball team and eliminate the Chief Wahoo logo.
The event will be moderated by Shana Klein of Kent State University.
A keynote presentation is scheduled for May 5 at 7 p.m. with Joy Harjo, author of the poetry book “An American Sunrise,” which is also part of the museum’s “NEA Big Read,” an annual event and partnership with the Washington Public Library. Massillon.
Both events will take place at the museum at 121 Lincoln Way E.
“The exhibit is a visual accompaniment to memories of yesterday and stories of today that parallel the words of Native American Poet Laureate Joy Harjo in her award-winning book, ‘An American Sunrise’,” the museum said in a press release. Release.
A recent panel discussion on the “Un-settling” exhibit, featuring Massillon Museum staff, exhibit curators, and Native American artists, can be re-streamed at https://www.facebook.com/watch/ live/?ref=watch_permalink&v=2828211584138557
Klein and Marissa Tiroly co-curated the exhibition.
Klein, an art history professor at Kent State University who completed her doctoral training at the University of New Mexico, said curating the Massillon exhibit posed challenges.
“As a new resident of Ohio,” she said, “I had a hard time finding Native colleagues and/or teaching Native subjects here in the Northeast.”
Klein said it was important to include Indigenous artists in the ‘Un-Settling’ exhibit, “so that we can show (their work) on their own terms, which has never been done in this country. where non-Native curators have exploited, abused, or diminished the importance and significance of Native American art.
“It’s a good balance to strike between amplifying Indigenous voices on this show while avoiding constantly forcing Indigenous people to have to explain their history and perspective,” the professor wrote in an emailed response. mail.
Working on the exhibit was a learning experience, Klein noted.
“A small but powerful network of Native American scholars in this area…made me realize that there are no federally recognized tribes here, precisely because of the heritage of the abduction of the Indigenous peoples in this area and the systematic genocide and treaties that were carried out to eliminate the Indigenous peoples of this area,” she wrote. “That’s why an exhibit on Native withdrawal and resistance is so important in northeast Ohio.”
Harjo’s book, “American Sunrise,” inspired the exhibit’s theme, Klein said.
“Harjo speaks to the heartbreaking and inspiring history of the indigenous peoples of this country, which I think many Americans can relate to – whether black, Jewish, immigrant or otherwise,” she said. .
Indigenous peoples “continue to use art today to challenge racism, stereotypes and unequal power dynamics,” she added.
Historical background with art
Tiroly earned her master’s degree in art history at Kent State University and previously helped run the School of Art Collection and Galleries. She also held several other small exhibitions in northeast Ohio.
“While I didn’t intend ‘Un-settling’ to elicit any particular response, I hope the exhibit will stay with visitors and spark new perspectives and dialogue,” she wrote in an email. “I think part of the brilliance of the artists’ work and Harjo’s poetry is the humanity they bring to the subjects of abduction and colonization – subjects that some may avoid when the focus is is put on politics rather than people.”
Tiroly said it was important to include historical context alongside the artwork through gallery panels, audio artist statements and interactive videos.
“We felt that the artists’ messages were too important to risk remaining hidden in layers and symbols,” she said.
Having difficult conversations
A complementary library features books and articles that provide additional context and explain the exhibit’s themes, the museum said.
“If you really want to dig deeper and get into more intense conversations, you can do that there,” Coon said. “We make it easy to approach the uncomfortable. You don’t have to come here and feel like you’re going to be attacked or feel inadequate for having limited knowledge or feeling a certain way.”
Tiroly also credited the Massillon Museum’s willingness to host discussions on topics that can be emotional or controversial.
Coon said the museum is creating platforms “to have these…difficult conversations” because “we understand that people will come to the exhibit with different levels of knowledge and opinions on this topic.
“We are creating a place where you can ask questions.”
Contact Ed at [email protected] On Twitter: @ebalintREP.