Oklahoma to honour Native American art in new $175m museum

Native American artist Jeri Redcorn will show an installation evoking the lost art of Caddo ceramics at the museum
Courtesy of Jeri Redcorn

The Native American artists Jeri Redcorn and Joseph Erb have been commissioned to create works inaugurating Oklahoma’s First Americans Museum—more than 25 years since planning for it began. Opening in Oklahoma City in September 2021, the museum aims to depart from a traditional ethnographic approach, with a vision that “harkens back to the ancient but can be seen in the contemporary moment”, says its associate director, Shoshana Wasserman.

Yet the institution was almost never realised, having faced grave financial setbacks since a $33m project was first envisioned in 1994. The 175,000 sq. ft museum, which is encased in glass and designed by Hornbeek Blatt Architects, has ultimately cost $175m. It was originally meant to be funded by private, state and federal sources, but only $7m was secured in the first decade of planning. “On the national level, there was the recession, natural disasters, war—all that diminished the funding that was supposed to go into this project,” Wasserman says.

The state of Oklahoma formed a committee to revive the project in 2005, and remediation work began on its nearly 300-acre site, which was once home to Indigenous encampments but also suffered “industrial trauma” as one of North America’s most prodigious oil-producing fields during the Industrial Revolution, Wasserman says. In 2006, organisers signed a memorandum of understanding with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC, for the long-term loan of objects that had been collected in Oklahoma and were associated with the 39 tribes who lived in the state in the 19th century, many of them relocated by the US government.

But in 2012, state funding was cut again, and the museum remained a shell until 2015, when Oklahoma City, the Chickasaw Nation and the land development sector of the non-profit American Indian Cultural Center partnered with the state to kickstart the project once again with the aid of private donors.

The museum was then known as the American Indian Cultural Center, but last December its director, James Pepper Henry, changed the name to “reflect the fact that Indigenous histories and American history are inseparable”, Wasserman says.

When the museum opens, Redcorn and Erb’s large-scale commissions will challenge the “common representation of Indigenous art in museums, where everything is often relegated to the past and has a primitive aspect”, Erb says. “Too often Indigenous museums have cultures represented but no people.”

Redcorn, who is known for reviving the lost art of Caddo ceramics, has designed an installation evoking the pottery, titled Ayo Wahdut Kuku (Sky Earth Water), which will wrap around a circular gallery. Occupying parts of Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma before the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the Caddo people “believed in not dominating nature but living with nature, and in a communal way of life that was robbed from them by the European government”, says Redcorn. Her design seeks toRead More – Source

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