| Indigenous art representation increases at Yale
In the 2019–20 year, groups including the Yale University Art Gallery, Association of Native Americans at Yale and Yale Repertory Theatre contributed to the push for more indigenous representation in various forms of art around Yale’s campus.
An installation at the Yale University Art Gallery titled “Pueblo Women’s Ceramics from the Patti Skigen Collection” was put on display in the summer of 2019. The year-long installation highlights the works of 18 female indigenous artists from the New Mexican pueblos of Acoma, Jemez, San Ildefonso and Santa Clara.
The installation features pieces from a gift to the YUAG from Patti Skigen LAW ’68. The gift consisted of 33 works of contemporary Native American art. Anthony Trujillo DIV ’19, who worked on the installation and is from the pueblo of Ohkay Owingeh, felt a “sense of urgency” to display the pieces both to honor the gift and to emphasize the value the YUAG saw in representing the art of Native American women.
The installation also includes three interviews, conducted by Trujillo, of pueblo artists included in the exhibit. Trujillo said that he wanted viewers to engage with the challenges the exhibit poses by giving them a glimpse into the lives and homes of the artists.
Trujillo was excited for the display to open up new possibilities for how Yale could engage with the Native American community.
“I would love for this to open up longer, more sustained and deeper conversations about the presentation of Native art in this space,” Trujillo said.
This installation was followed by the YUAG’s first major exhibition of indigenous North American art, titled “Place, Nations, Generations, Beings: 200 Years of Indigenous North American Art.” The exhibit brings together objects from the YUAG, the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History and the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. It is entirely student-curated and went on view Nov. 1.
Leah Shrestinian ’19, one of the primary curators, said the exhibit was “about the artists’ relationships to place, nation, other generations of artists and significant beings, as well as their relationships to Yale.”
The exhibit’s 96 pieces include basketry, beadwork, drawings, photography, pottery, textiles and wood carvings by artists such as Marie Watt ART ’96, Maria Martinez and Will Wilson. The objects date from the early 19th century to the present.
In November, the Yale community celebrated North American Indigenous Peoples Month with a series of events including the YUAG exhibition and the annual Ivy Native Council Fall Conference.
According to Matthew Makomenaw, the director of the Native American Cultural Center, the month-long celebration offered a variety of events in order to “visibly honor [the] culture and contributions” of Native peoples.
At the end of November, the Association of Native Americans at Yale announced that they secured University funding to periodically host a powwow — a celebration of indigenous people and culture.
ANAAY held a powwow in both 2018 and 2017 but not in the 10 years before that. Last year, the powwow — the seventh in Yale history — coincided with ANAAY’s 25th anniversary. According to ANAAY’s announcement, there was no powwow this year due to the “enormous labor” needed to put on the event. But with this new funding — which will come from the Yale College Dean’s Office as a payment of $20,000 every two years — Yale’s campus is now guaranteed a biennial powwow.
Meghanlata Gupta ’21, president of the Association of Native Americans at Yale, also said that in years past, students were so focused on securing funding for the powwow that they could not dedicate as much time to planning the event. With the new financial security of the event, Gupta said that students are now able to focus more on preparing the celebrations.
Then, in 2020, “Manahatta,” the first Native-focused play produced at the Yale Repertory Theater, began performances that ran through Feb. 15. In the play, playwright Mary Kathryn Nagle tells and retells stories of Manhattan in both past and present. Inspiration for the play came from Nagle’s time at a law firm in New York.
Madeline Sayet, executive director of the Yale Indigenous Performing Arts Program, also highlighted the play’s importance to the Yale community. She hoped this play would add to a new era of theater that highlights Native stories.
“At this moment, it’s really exciting to be at Yale where we have an exhibit [highlighting Native art] at the art gallery and we have ‘Manahatta’ being produced, because so often the base narrative has been exclusion and erasure,” Sayet said.
In February, the YUAG exhibit and “Manahatta” were highlighted during Yale’s first Indigenous Arts Night.
The evening began with tours of “Place, Nations, Generations, Beings,” which were followed by a dinner featuring several speakers. A viewing of “Manahatta” at the Yale Repertory Theatre concluded the night.
“It was a very joyful occasion,” said Katie McCleary ’18, one of the exhibit’s curators. “It truly was a celebration of the exhibition and the play and a look to the future of Indigenous art at Yale.”
Marisol Carty | firstname.lastname@example.org