Link: Field Museum Native American collection

This is an important article in Chicago magazine, “An Artist Addresses the Field Museum’s Problematic Native American Hall”. The article is a review of a new art installation happening at the Field, by artist Chris Pappan and it includes many nice images with the story of the exhibit.

For me, the most significant part is near the beginning of the article, looking at the way that the Field is planning how to exhibit its collections moving forward into the next century:

The case labeled “Indians of the Chicago Region,” for instance, makes no mention that the greater metropolitan area now has the nation’s third largest Native American urban population. This restricted view can be traced back to the museum’s beginning. Native American objects acquired for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition by anthropologist Franz Boas — who believed he was salvaging remains of disappearing cultures — were part of its founding collections.
After six decades of this static display, the tribal nations connected to these objects will finally have a voice in their presentation, emphasizing their place in living culture. In October, the museum announced a three-year renovation of the hall. When it reopens in 2021, it will not just represent a new direction for the Field Museum but will reconsider what natural history museum ethnographic galleries can, and should, be in the 21st century. The challenge is in recognizing the colonialism in their roots while involving indigenous voices that have long been left out.

It is valuable and critically important to include the diversity of cultural experiences in museums. But the creation of these exhibits and collections in the past was based upon incorrect views, often racist and Eurocentric. I cannot even express how many exhibits I have seen that were created during the 1960s to the 1980s, that describe cultures as if they stopped in time when the objects were collected.

The Field has a remarkable collection, and I am glad they are moving to find new ways to tell the stories, including the voices of descendant populations.