The curatorial team involved in organizing “Fazal Sheikh: Exposures” at the Yale University Art Gallery wishes to clarify some of the steps that were taken in our planning process.
As part of the exhibition, the artist planned to include a contribution by a Navajo spiritual and cultural advisor that was intended as a representation of reverence for sacred lands. When it became clear that this contribution included sacred ceremonial Indigenous materials — including a modified eagle bone instrument — we sought advice from members of Yale’s Indigenous community, Indigenous advisors in Connecticut, as well as national Indigenous cultural and Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, also known as NAGPRA, advisors. These individuals, who asked to remain anonymous, advised that some of the intended materials are considered sacred to Indigenous communities and should not be displayed publicly. Out of the utmost respect for this guidance, the materials themselves and the artist’s vision for the exhibition, we discussed possible alternatives with the artist and his collaborator. Unfortunately, we were unable to reach an agreement and, ultimately, the contribution was withdrawn. The display case in the Gallery remains empty, except for a card installed at the request of the artist.
We stand behind the counsel that we received, the Indigenous knowledge held by members of our curatorial team who joined later and our collective efforts to be cognizant of and responsible to the history of the Gallery’s past missteps with Indigenous communities, both on and off campus. We also recognize that despite the best intentions, miscommunications can occur. Given the exhibition’s representations of Indigenous people and their homelands in the Bears Ears National Monument area, we acknowledge that Yale’s Indigenous community should have been consulted earlier in the planning process and apologize for not directly involving them sooner.
We value the voices and knowledge of our Indigenous community and those represented in the exhibition. We are working to strengthen efforts at the Gallery to foster the collaborative and respectful involvement of Indigenous communities. This means supporting the creation of Indigenous-informed guidelines and advisory groups for the Gallery, as well as prioritizing the necessary public programs that will make such conversations possible.
The Richard Benson Associate Curator of Photography and Digital Media, YUAG
Isabella Shey Robbins (Diné)
Ph.D. Candidate in History of Art and American Studies at Yale, Graduate Research Assistant, Department of Photography, YUAG
Royce K. Young Wolf (Hiraacá [Hidatsa], Nu’eta [Mandan], and Sosore [Eastern Shoshone])
The Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Associate in Native American Art and Curation and Yale University Presidential Visiting Fellow
The Marcia Brady Tucker Fellow, Department of Photography, YUAG