With visual art, food and performing arts, community members celebrated Native art and culture at the Yale Indigenous Arts Night on Friday.
The evening began with tours of the Yale University Art Gallery’s exhibit “Place, Nations, Generations, Beings,” which was followed by a dinner featuring several speakers. The last event was a viewing of “Manahatta” at the Yale Repertory Theatre.
“It’s a great tradition to have to celebrate Native arts on campus,” said Meghanlata Gupta ’21, president of the Association of Native Americans at Yale. She said that the exhibit and play are both “huge testaments to the contemporary strengths of Indigenous communities today, the historical strength of Indigenous communities, that fact that we’ve always been here, and that our work deserves to be in some of the most renowned institutions across the University and across the country in general.”
To organize the event, the Association of Native Americans at Yale worked with Ned Blackhawk, professor of history and American studies, and staff members at the YUAG and Repertory Theatre.
The exhibit at the YUAG was co-curated by Katie McCleary ’18, Leah Shrestinian ’19, and Joseph Zordan ’19 while they were Yale College students. The art on view spans over 200 years and comes from the United States, Mexico and Canada. It is broken up into four themes indicated in the exhibition’s title, and will be on view in the YUAG’s fourth-floor gallery until June 21.
“The exhibition is very much focused on making sure that any visitor to the space immediately learns and further understands that Indigenous people are still here and that we’re still creating,” said McCleary. “Everything from the wall text to the way that we chose to present objects to the colors that we used in the space, the design, is to reinforce the idea that Indigenous artists do really incredible work and they continue to do incredible work.”
According to the curators, they chose to organize the exhibit by theme as opposed to chronologically because anthropological exhibitions of Native art often represent art linearly in order to “primitivize” and “historicize” Indigenous people.
“Manahatta,” a play written by Mary Kathryn Nagle, will be running at the Repertory Theatre from Jan. 24 to Feb. 15. It tells the story of a Lenape securities trader caught up in the 2008 financial crisis.
Events like Indigenous Arts Night mark an increase in showcases of Indigenous art of all forms on Yale’s campus.
“I think that there are many more representations of Indigenous people and Indigenous art than ever before,” McCleary said. “I think that is a direct result of Indigenous students doing the work to put that art on view, or to display exhibits or put on performances about Indigenous people. There’s a lot going on, and it’s all the result of Native students.”
Jami Powell, associate curator of Native American art at the Hood Museum at Dartmouth College, gave the keynote address at the dinner. Blackhawk and Gupta also delivered addresses.
McCleary said she believes it is important that the majority of the event took place in the gallery space, because it makes the space more welcoming for Yale’s Native community.
“It was a very joyful occasion,” McCleary said. “It truly was a celebration of the exhibition and the play and a look to the future of Indigenous art at Yale.”
Gupta noted how events such as this are beneficial to both the Native and non-Native communities on campus. She said it was exciting to see “Indigenous students feeling represented, feeling like their voices are heard, that their work is important and that they can see what kind of futures lie in store for them.” She added that it was also important that, through these artworks, non-Native communities at Yale are able to learn and engage with the histories and cultures represented.
Kira Daniels ’22, who attended the event, shared that even the food at the event made Indigenous Arts Night stand out as unique.
“It’s very common at Yale, especially at events meant to celebrate marginalized communities here, to provide free food,” Daniels said. “Unfortunately, that food is often sourced from places like Chick-fil-A or Papa John’s that can cheaply feed crowds, but are really antithetical to the events’ purposes. The intentionality of the catering choice really stood out to me as unique.”
Gupta said that she hopes student groups will continue to sponsor events like Indigenous Arts Night in the future.
The “Place, Nations, Generations, Beings” exhibit opened on Nov. 1, 2019.
Marisol Carty | firstname.lastname@example.org
Correction, Feb. 13: A previous version of this article stated that Gupta is the president of the Native American Cultural Center at Yale. In fact, she is the president of the Association of Native Americans at Yale.