Back in March — the day after Mayor Lori Lightfoot canceled Chicago’s trio of St. Patrick’s Day parades — another parade went on.
For the opening of twin exhibitions on Native American people, a celebration took place on the University of Chicago campus. The shows opened … and then closed one day later.
Marc Vitali: Dancers, elders and people on horseback marched in the main quadrangle of the university.
They were celebrating the launch of a pair of exhibitions – one at the University’s Neubauer Collegium.
And the other at the Field Museum. Both honor the Apsáalooke people.
Apsáalooke means “children of the large-beaked bird.” In English, they became known as the Crow, and the once nomadic people became reservation-bound in Montana.
It’s the first time a show at the Field was curated by a Native American. We spoke with the curator from her home in New Mexico.
Nina Sanders, curator: What I’d like for people to do is just investigate a little bit deeper.
Just expand your idea of who we are in this country. I think it also helps people to reimagine the way that they see their own creation stories, their own existence, the way that they pull from their culture to thrive or survive through hardships, through sickness, through change.
Vitali: The exhibit shines light on sacred shields and objects from Apsáalooke history — and also fashion, beadwork and paintings made by contemporary artists.
Sanders: Everybody contributed. It was just sort of heart and mind and soul. Everybody was just fully invested. We had sculptors, painters, bead-workers. We had people who contributed writing to the catalog.
Vitali: The museum is in the middle of a three-year renovation of its Native North American Hall.
Alaka Wali, Field Museum of Natural History: [We’re] really trying to understand how the natural history museum today thinks about issues around Native American art, Native American collections, how can we steward those in a more respectful way that acknowledges the injuries that museums had done to Native peoples from their very founding, and bring in Native voice but you know in a way that privileges the Native voice, not just like, ‘Oh, I have my token collaborator’ kind of thing.
We don’t educate people in this country about Native Americans very well and most of the time our audiences think that Native Americans are gone from the landscape, and so what I hope is that there will be a realization that Native peoples are still thriving, that Native American art is flourishing and that there’s a relationship between the past, the present and the future.
Vitali: The show is titled “Apsáalooke: Women and Warriors” — and it looks at the variable definitions of each.
Sanders: For many matriarchal indigenous communities it’s understood that the universe, or nature, sort of develops beings or planet life, animals, that can contain multiple genders or sort of sexual ways of being. We essentially understand that there are people that don’t fit into these binaries. So we have women who lived as men and took wives. We have women who never got with anybody and lived their lives out as warriors.
Vitali: Opening day seems like long ago, but the curator is confident the reopening will come soon.
Sanders: Once it opens again it’ll be another celebration.
I think the very fact that those shields and those objects exist in that space, it will absolutely open because they are supposed to be seen. They’ve come across these hundreds of years to rise to the surface of the Field Museum, and their songs will be sung again.
The Field Museum hopes to make an announcement soon about its reopening date.
Follow Marc Vitali on Twitter: @MarcVitaliArts