POLLY NORDSTRAND: It's my pleasure to introduce our keynote speaker for the evening, Candice Hopkins. And I did not practice the word. So she is Carcross and Tagish First Nation. OK. Candice is an internationally respected independent curator and writer. She received her MA from the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College, where she was awarded the Ramapo Curatorial Prize for the exhibition, Every Stone Tells a Story-- The Performance Work of David Hammons and Jimmy Durum.
She has held curatorial positions at the National Gallery of Canada, the Western Front, the Walter Phillips Gallery, and the Museum of Contemporary Native Art. Her writings on history, art, and vernacular architecture have been published by MIT Press, Black Dog Publishing, Revolver Press, New York University, the Fillip Review, the National Museum of American-- among others. Did I say National Museum of American Indian? I'm sorry.
She has lectured widely, including at the DeWitt, Tate Modern, Dakar Biennial, Tate Britain, and the University of British Columbia, among many other locations just this week. [LAUGHS] Her recent projects include Close Encounters, The Next 500 Years, a multi-site exhibition in Winnipeg, co-curated with Lee-Ann Martin, Steven Loft, and Jenny Western. The Sakahan, which is co-curated with Greg Hill and Christine Lalonde at the National Gallery of Canada, its largest survey of contemporary indigenous art, which happened in 2013. And she was the co-creator of Unsettled Landscapes, the first in SITE Santa Fe's newly re-imagined biennial exhibitions focused on new art from the Americas, which was in 2014.
In 2012, Hopkins presented a keynote lecture on the topic of sovereign imagination for document Documenta 13. And now she is currently a curatorial advisor for Documenta 14, which will be taking place in 2017 in both Athens and Kassel. Please welcome Candice Hopkins.
CANDICE HOPKINS: Thank you, Polly, for that introduction. These introductions are always so uncomfortable.
It's an honor to be here, standing on Cayuga land. I wanted to thank organizers Jolene Rickard for the generous invitation; Polly Nordstrand, for all your work; Natani, who's behind me, who's going to work some magic with this PowerPoint; and of course, all the staff behind the scenes.
So we're listening now to a clip by a group called Postcommodity. It's from an album that's called We Lost Half the Forest and The Rest Will Burn Next Summer. "We have no earlids. We are condemned to listen." These are the opening lines of composer Armory Shaffer's essay, "Open Ears." He says we can't close our ears, but it doesn't mean that we necessarily also hear what is being said.
And I think that this is particularly true for those whose ears seem closed more often than they are open. How can we attune ourselves to pick up different frequencies, to feel what reverberates, and to hear what sounds at the margins? Indeed, a missing component of discourses on decolonization or even non-colonial thought is the practice of deep listening. That's a term that's brought to us by composer Pauline Oliveros.
In the visual arts, we're so conditioned by our eyes that we have all but forgotten about our ears. Yet our minor voices sing out into the void. Institutions, like people, are creatures of habits, often sticking to usual practices until they're cemented into what we call a method. And are suspicious of change, especially when that pressure to change comes not from a place of power, but sometimes from a place of dispossession.
Ways of doing things can seem like they have become embedded in the very architecture of a building, hardening into the mortar, a very part of the glue that holds it together. So I ask, how can we chip away at this mortar so it's not so airtight, so that we can let in the sounds from outside? The light that will stream in through these cracks will also illuminate dark recesses. They will bring our histories out of the shadows to support voices where there were none.
Lately, I've been opening my ears. This is what is sounding at the margins. It is a chorus that's becoming louder by day, a collective of minor voices filled with major players. A peripheral ensemble, perhaps, but we practice everyday. We condition ourselves. We are finding our tune.
I am listening, and this is what I'm hearing. It might sound to some like a cacophony. But even noise is generative.
Fred Moten writes that the cacophony is extramusical. We hear something in it that reminds us that our desire for harmony is arbitrary. And then Jack Halberstam writes that listening to cacophony and noise tells us that there is a wild beyond to the structures that we inhabit and that inhabit us. I understand this wildness as a refusal to accept other people's ideas of civilization.
There's a few things that I've been thinking about, and this is a bit of a work in progress. One is a term that has been brought to me by Sto:lo scholar Dylan Robinson, and he calls it hungry listening. When non-native people first came to his community, they were called the hungry ones. They were quite literally starving. But they were also starving for gold.
So he likes to think about hungry listening as a kind of listening without intent. How can we listen in a way that we don't already frame our expectations of what we're going to hear? And how can this become a kind of time and place of the sovereign? So I'm thinking of repeating sounds that overlap, perhaps a ceremony of sound to break the spell or the convention of time that we've been forced to adhere to and thinking about how music is the basis for every ceremony.
What is decolonial listening? It is an active practice, as we know. Decolonial is a verb, not a metaphor. It's something that happens in a moment, but echoes for long after. So I'm going to show a few examples now. I'll move through the next couple of slides of things that I believe that have been sounding in the margins.
The first clip is from a performance ceremony that took place on the steps of Parliament Hill. It originated in Alert Bay, in Kwakwaka'wakw territory. And it's a copper cutting ceremony that shamed the federal government of Canada, shamed them for their historic practices, as well as their practices at that time, which were to try to pass a number of omnibus bills that would have further stripped us of our rights and our lands and our sovereignty. Go to the next slide and the next.
Play the first clip. Thank you.
- They arrived on Parliament Hill with a carload of sacred items-- ceremonial masks, shakers, and drums. They traveled from British Columbia to deliver a message to the prime minister.
- The time has come for unity and truth. For 500 plus--
--years, our people have experienced a degradation--
--forced displacement, and a continued genocide that has to stop.
[? Mique'l ?] and other members of BC First Nations are preparing the grounds of parliament for a traditional ceremony. They're here to break this, a copper shield. It's a shaming ceremony. According to this Hereditary Chief, the copper shields are a symbol of prestige and wealth. They're also a spiritual symbol of balance and truth.
- To break one is an extreme, extreme act. In the old days, they believed in it so much that the threat of breaking a copper should clear things up and iron things out and sort things out. So in a village so that there's not-- trouble doesn't escalate to the point of warfare, this is a way of doing it nonviolently, making a statement.
- The shaming ritual was once outlawed by the federal government. So the Kwakwaka'wakw kept it hidden until last year, when Chief Dick performed the ceremony in front of the BC legislature. He said it was the Creator that lead them here.
- The ancient ceremony was performed on top of the words of the residential school apology, seen as a symbol of a long-seated, troubled relationship.
CANDICE HOPKINS: So the person who is speaking is Hereditary Chief Beau Dick from the Kwakawaka'wakw nation. And he gathered a number of people along his trips, travel, across Canada. This is him on the steps of Canadian Parliament. What they did after the copper breaking was to leave the pieces of copper as a gift, as evidence of their action. The government's response was not to accept the gift, but to ship the pieces back to the museum in BC. It's quite fitting.
So this is something else that has also been sounding at the margins. In 2013 through to 2014 in what now a kind of resistance that burns like embers, like a ground fire, I don't know more. And I wanted to pick a clip that took place here in the United States in the Mall of America. So much of these protests took place within spaces of commerce because spaces of commerce are now considered to be often places of public exchange, economic exchange.
And this was a movement that grew up, and I think in many ways, also like a really hot fire, started to sort of burn away in the same time. But it's still there. So we'll play this clip.
[DRUMMING AND SHOUTING]
CANDICE HOPKINS: So this is a protest, certainly, but it's also a celebration. It's also done in a shared language, a shared language of song, a shared language of dance, a language that almost everyone could participate in no matter where they were from.
[DRUMMING AND SHOUTING]
CANDICE HOPKINS: It originated at a time of great disconnect, and out of this disconnect and need to be heard. And this need to be heard was not localized by any specific region or nation, but grew and evolved and became internationally quite quickly.
There's something else that's been sounding at the margin. It first sounded in 1992 in response to what many people popularly call the Oka Crisis. It was an attempt to enlarge a speaking device, enlarge a megaphone-- to use a term a lot of people use now in terms of thinking about the academy-- to indigenize something. And it was brought, similar to Beau Dick's action, to various communities across Canada so that people could speak to the land, speaking to their mother.
What this did was it enabled people's voices together to carry farther. It enabled them to speak on a different platform at a different scale. And what the artist Rebecca Belmore said, when she was first thinking about constructing this, is it was created in response to the deafness of those in power, including the government. This megaphone ended its journey on the steps of Parliament Hill, where the only person who was involved with the government at that time was a premier, Joe Clark. And he was the only one who was gutsy enough to step up to the mic.
And this is one of the last clips I'll play for a little bit. I wanted to play the first minute of when this megaphone was initially activated, and it's a video by Marjorie Beaucage.
- Did you hear the island cheer, BC? Wave your hand and leap for joy. If you love Mother Earth, up and down. We are the future. Our nation will succeed. We have the right to live where we want to live. Everybody say yeah. This is our land.
CANDICE HOPKINS: So this is what is sounding at the margins, and it's a chorus that's becoming louder by the day. And this is what I've been listening to lately and thinking about as we gather our voices so that we can speak, so that we can speak back.
It was Walter Benjamin who said that-- he asked, in fact-- is there not an echo of those who have been silenced in the voices to which we lend our ears today? So I wanted to go more in depth into an installation by the collective Postcommodity, which took place in August of 2010 during Indian Market in Santa Fe during the celebrations of the city's 400-year anniversary celebrations, where they installed a work based on the Pueblo Revolt of 1680.
And what is behind me is a quote by a friar who was sent up to what we know is now the southwest to witness with his own eyes the supposed riches of Cibola, or the Seven Cities of Gold. So the myth of Cibola had in fact followed Europeans when they came to the New World. And understand that at that time, the Spanish had pillaged the great cities of Mesoamerica. And the way that imperialism works, of course, is it's fueled by the idea of riches and future riches and more riches.
So this idea that there might be seven cities that were constructed entirely of gold was completely riveting to them and enchanting. And when they heard the stories of four shipwrecked men who had walked all the way from the coast of modern day Texas to what is now Mexico City, and their stories of bison herds, of turquoise, of gold, of silver, and riches that were beyond imagination, of course they had to see it for themselves.
The thing is, though, that the friar never made it into the walls of what people believe is near Zuni Pueblo now because he was told to go back. And around that time, a slave who was originally from North Africa, who's only called [? Esteban ?] in the text, was killed. So of course, they heeded the orders and they went back. But it wasn't before he had a chance to write in his diary about these glittering cities, much like this one behind me, which then fueled the bloody missions of Coronado, and then, of course, all the pillaging that would come after that.
But to step ahead in time to 1680, to the pueblo revolt. So what led to the Pueblo Revolt was an attempt, of course, to overthrow Spanish rule that had at that point been in the southwest for almost 80 years. Many people now call it the Great Southwest Rebellion. And it was a time when various Pueblo tribes came under the leadership of Pope, to resist Spanish colonization and reclaim the region of Santa Fe. And here's Pope. It's funny that there's no monument to Pope in the southwest. This is, in fact, in Washington, DC.
So they held the city and the surrounding region for 12 years, and Postcommodity's installation uncovers something of an oft forgotten moment in the United States history. It's an instance of indigenous agency, sovereignty, and the remaking of culture relative to colonial expansion. And in Postcommodity's installation, they do so through digital media and sound.
The Pueblo Revolt remains an exceptional moment of indigenous resistance, one that was never again replicated at the same scale in the northern Spanish frontier. And what it shares with resistance movements in contemporary war is the use of DIY weaponry and effective asymmetrical tactics that they set into motion that comes from a deep need to defend homelands and to resist the effects of imperious ideologies and violence.
However, even so-called decolonization and the growth of super nationalism are not, as Edward Said says, the termination of imperial relationships. They are merely the extending of a geopolitical web which has been spinning since the Renaissance. So they consider their installation, which I'll show you in a little bit, entitled "If History Moves at the Speed of Its weapons, Then the Shape of the Arrow is Changing", the first in a two-part work.
The second is called "Promoting a More Just, Verdant, and Harmonious Resolution", and that was installed in Belgium as part of the Contour biennnial in 2011. Each installation stems from two very different instances of considerations of warfare and the need to defend homelands, and each gesture is no less complicated than the other.
So people in what is now northern New Mexico had lived under imposed Spanish rule for some 80 years prior to the revolt. Yet it is not the first time that they, together with their strategic allies, drew up arms against their invaders and those seeking to civilize them in the name of religion. As John Berger notes, each tyranny finds and improvises its own set of controls, which is why they are often, at first, not recognized as the vicious controls that they are.
So the various Pueblo peoples who took part in the revolt-- among them the Keres, Temperos, Tewas, Towas, Piros, Zuni, Tewas-- were by no means a homogeneous group. Many did not share the same language. And the word pueblo, of course, was of Spanish origins that collectively identifies these various communities based on a similar architectural style.
So many factors contributed to the uprising. Among the most significant was the Acoma War, an event that was likely still burning in the memory of every indigenous person in the region. In October 1598 the Keres is at Acoma Pueblo had killed 12 soldiers when a skirmish erupted. The Spanish military, under orders of then governor, the Conquistador Don Juan de Onate y Salazar demanded that the carriers turn over all of their supplies, supplies essential to their survival over the winter.
And to do this, the Spanish snuck into Acoma Pueblo like cowards, they stole the winter harvest, and they also raped a woman while they were at it. When all was said and done, Onate's nephew was among the dead. And this death, of course, hit close to home. So Onate retaliated in January 1599, and under his orders, the Spanish military ruthlessly killed or murdered 800 villagers. Women and children were not spared during the massacre.
The remaining 500 villagers were enslaved, and on Onate's order, the right foot of every man over the age of 25 was amputated. Between 24 to 80 men were mutilated as part of this decree. And he didn't limit it just to the Acoma, of course. He also cut the foot of a Hopi man who had been visiting the community at the time, and then over the days that followed, also instilled this in other nearby Pueblo communities.
In their installation "If History Moves at the Speed of its Weapons", the only objects visible in the gold-painted gallery space of the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts in Santa Fe were a set of eight small speakers. The gold is a nod to the perceived riches of the Santa Fe region that fueled Spanish conquest, as well as the riches, both real and imagined, that continue to characterize the city.
From the artist's perspective, the piece is a historical one. It was created in response to the 400-year anniversary celebrations, and it couldn't have been better timed. In the room's warm glow, the eight speakers emit nothing short of a sonic ambush. In a kind of digitally produced sympathetic magic, the artists transformed ballistic data of Pueblo Revolt era weapons into sound. So here the atlatl, or spear thrower, became a square tone, the rock and sling a sawtooth tone. The bow and arrow became a triangle tone, and the war club a sine tone.
The speed of each weapon was transformed into the speed of sound tone as it moved through the room. And the artists' decision to assign each armament a specific tone was not arbitrary. They selected ones whose forms, revealed by what's called sematics, were symbolically related. Think of the shape of the arrow relative to a triangle wave for example. So these weapons as sound were highly accurate renderings of the originals, something perhaps only possible with their collaboration with computer scientists.
And their impact when you were in the room was palpable. The weapons' piercing tones were acutely heard, but they were also felt. You could feel one land beside you or go through you, for example, while the armaments themselves remained altogether unseen.
[VARIOUS SOUND TONES]
CANDICE HOPKINS: One thing that they did was, among the different data that was inputted into this program that's called Max MSP, is they also put in the area of the gallery as the area of the battlefield, which I think was quite interesting.
So on his well-read essay, Theses on the Philosophy of History, which I'm sure many of us know, Walter Benjamin observed the ungraspable nature of the past and its fleeting nature. He said that the true picture of the past whizzes by, and that to capture this true picture requires something of a temporary stasis. He said that history must crystallize into a shape and be constructed as something immediately present.
For the artist's perspective in experiencing if history moves at the speed of its weapons, the viewer becomes something of a spectator of history. It is through this direct engagement, the experience of this historical moment via a sonic assault, that one might begin to understand the present. But this isn't to lose sight of speed as a defining feature in all of this, and in Benjamin's original observation as well.
As Postcommodity member Kade Twist explains, the installation is also influenced by the writings of Paul Virgilio. He came up with the idea that history and the rationalization of temporary relationships within a particular society or civilization indeed moves at the speed of its weapons. We culturally rationalize velocity through our weapons systems. In this context, we are looking at velocity or the dramalogical difference-- dramalogical is kind of another word for war-- between two clashing civilizations in analyzing the indigenous cultural identity and worldviews embedded in these weapons systems.
So the installation also pointed to the future. Small graphite drawings, visualizations of the different sound waves-- and there's the sound waves there-- were also on view and exhibited on the wall. These algorithms functioned as graphic musical scores. The scores for Postcommodity member Raven Chacon reveal how, for example, a sawtooth wave will always sound like it's from another time, much like how yesterday's robot will always look futuristic.
While these tones are primitive, they're the most basic sound waves and tones, and compared to 1680, they might as well be from outer space. So underlying the visible and sonic elements of the installation is an ambitious combination of custom computer programming, physics modeling, and mathematical computation.
And so a little bit more about how they made this. The code took certain parameters into account. Five of the parameters had to do with the site, so things such as the envisioned humidity, the air pressure, the temperature, latitude degrees, and altitude of Santa Fe, as well as the physical characteristics of the gallery as battlefield, its length, its width, its height. Others denoted the approximate heights of the warriors, and thus the height at which the weapons were launched. And this was given a range from about 0 to 10 feet.
Yet another set reflected the specific characteristics of each of the four armaments themselves, accounting for such things as their length particular to the atlatl and the war club, their velocity, their mass, and their force of impact. For accuracy's sake, the code accommodated for a wide range of possible hits, misfires as well as successful strikes. If a spear didn't go through you, for example, you might hear it land beside your right foot.
Randomness was at play as well. The number of warriors on the battlefield fluctuated, as did the number of weapons at any given time. And finally, to heighten the ambush situation, the software was skewed to a certain intensity at battle at all times. So when you walked into it, it was like you were walking into the middle of it.
So weapons reveal the cultural ideologies of their creators. They contain much information and meaning. And the revolt era weapons, despite their seeming lack of technological sophistication to our eyes now, were highly deadly in the right hands. And these weapons, combined with a general stealth of the resisters and their effective use of asymmetric warfare, staved off the Spanish with their guns, their technical knowledge gained from conquering the huge cities of Mesoamerica and their propensity for extreme acts of violence, was brought to life as part of the installation through sound, is a way to counter the historical amnesia that characterizes the Americas even now, an act of forgetting of the blood that has spilled generations ago on the very ground that is beneath our feet.
The second example that I wanted to talk about is something that might initially appear to us as silent. But it isn't if we can all open our ears. So I remember the first time I saw one of Beau Dick's masks. The mask was large. It appeared to me to be too large to effectively wear in ceremony or used to be danced. This one was, instead, specifically made to hang on a gallery wall. Carved of wood so dark it appeared charred, the face is both male and female. Long coarse hair falls to either side, mixing with a vigorous mustache over which curled red lips appear fixed in a permanent O, as though howling or screaming or yelling.
I stood transfixed by this object, which seems to hover at the threshold between the nameable and the unnamable. Is an object's material nature the source of its power? Or does this power reside somewhere else? Is it the fact that it looked as though it could emit a sound at any moment, that it also had a role in song? Can this mask, with thanks to my colleague Mique'l Dangeli that we can authoritavely call a being, work to disrupt the power relations that are set into motion the moment that it is placed in a gallery or a museum?
Does its very presence challenge the Eurocentric character of these spaces? Can it disrupt the still-prevalent impulse to attach the word or idea of unsophistication to this mask despite increasingly broad definitions of artistic practice, and indeed, attempts to bring Northwest coast neatly into the realm of art since the 1920s.
So in the summer of 2012, Beau Dick performed something of a power transposition. It began with a solo exhibition at a Vancouver commercial gallery that presented a series of carved masks and sculptures. Midway through the show's run, 40 masks were removed and taken to Alert Bay off the coast of British Columbia, a small settlement. And it was there that they were danced for the final time in a cycle of four and ceremonially burned.
The artist invited his community, as well as artists, curators, and his gallerists to view and witness the act. For Beau Dick, the burning was not an end, but in fact a beginning, the masks' destruction part of a larger cycle bound with obligation that accompanies tradition and the strict protocols of ritual. As the artist explained that the masks, following the burning, he said, "what we have to do now is recreate them. And this is what keeps them alive."
Some historical images of potlatches.
At the time when power is more deeply tied to money than ever before, Dick's project was a means to short circuit the commodification of Northwest Coast ceremonial objects, preventing them from becoming fetishes in the service not of ritual, but of capital. For the artist, ensuring that these masks are used as intended takes away, as he writes, any monetary value that they have in this world and makes them real. Destruction becomes an active part of creation by detaching objects from a confining system.
And with this gesture, I believe he's gotten at something. At the moment that an object becomes a commodity, its true nature dissipates, sliding like ashes between spread fingers. The source of resistance is the desire to be real. In indigenous Northwest Coast societies, the most valuable objects are things that cannot be owned. They're passed down through generations, and these are things that are also kept hidden away in chests for safekeeping when they're not in use, when they're not active.
So the masks, Beau Dick's masks in particular, exist in the cyclical time of ritual. Ceremony ruptures the division between the historical and the contemporary. The masks thread their way through time, being continually remade in the same manner, irrespective of the changes, the great changes in society that have taken place around them.
Mask burning forms a part of a potlatch ceremony that remains central to Kwakwaka'wakw people. It was, of course, as Mique'l said as well, perceived as a great threat to western economic interests. In the 1800s, potlatching was banned in both Canada and in the United States, although it wasn't enforced quite as vigorously here. And the potlatch status is often gained by what you were able to give away to ensure the well-being of your community, rather than what you can accumulate. Sometimes hosts would be left ostensibly bankrupt, but understood that that would be repaid later with interest.
So for Indian agents, this was considered a worse than useless custom, wasteful, unproductive, and contrary to civilized values. When the custom didn't come to a halt altogether-- and it didn't in all communities--it was forced underground and performed in secret, sometimes disguised under Christian rituals, as giving gifts at Christmas time, for example. And Canada dropped the ban in 1951, and the US in 1934.
So Beau Dicks performance clarified that his masks have an exchange value that's not based on currency, and certainly not our idea of paper money, but on social agreement, and that these masks are different than the masks that he creates for galleries. The potlatch and the masks that he created have found their way into modern art and theory.
Of course, we know this. The ceremony inspired the situationists to name their periodical Potlatch. Its creative destruction moved Georges Bataille and Marcel Mauss to author books on the subject, The Accursed Share and The Gift, respectively. The objects' abstraction influenced people like Marcel Duchamp, and their connection to the subconscious was significant for the surrealists, particularly Andre Breton. One of the masks in his collection is now back in Alert Bay at U'mista Cultural Center. I think it came back in 2012.
Potlatch objects were first exhibited as art. In 1927, the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, in an exhibition called Canadian West Coast Art: Native and Modern, it attempted to do two things, to first posit objects made by indigenous peoples as art and not ethnography, and second, to make the case for the emergence of a new and distinctly Canadian painting style-- and this was, I think, the main reason for the show-- that could liberally borrow from native ascetic practices.
Valued for their affinity with modern art from non-native perspectives, traditional objects, from their perspective, had always been proximate to art, but not art in and of themselves.
They also don't fit neatly now. I was recently at a roundtable discussion in Madrid when I presented on this project. And to my colleagues around the table, they agreed that somehow this creative production was contemporaneous-- and this was Beau Dick's project-- but couldn't be considered contemporary art.
They didn't have a good reason why. They asked things like, well, is the video that's being made editioned? What kind of gallery representation does he have? Where does he live most of the time? Things like that. You see, we're still suffering from what to do with this excess that was created when the museum world tried to neatly recategorize our aesthetic and ceremonial production as art, which in fact, is still too limiting a term.
But back to Beau Dick's action. And I'm almost at my conclusion. In the announcement set out in advance of the exhibition, the gallery provided some context to the event. The series of masks and ritual knowledge are owned by both family, passed down from generation to generation. And this grouping, they said, is nearing the end of its cycle. Midway through the exhibition the 40 masks were taken to Alert Bay and danced one last time.
In the role of the potlatch, we know that the role of witness carries great responsibility. So what he was doing was transforming the curators, the collectors, the artists, into witnesses. And he accorded this role to his audience. It's now their duty to remember and to record. With the market for contemporary art so inflated, it serves us well to remember other values attached to masks and to other objects. Arjun Appadurai reminds us in The Social Life of Things that even from a theoretical point of view, human actors encode things with significance. But from a methodological point of view, it is the things in motion that illuminate their human and social context.
So with this, Beau Dick mobilized another value system. It's a reminder of the power that rests in tradition with custom, with practices that by their very nature are set into motion by these actions, and the influence and meaning that are held in these masks, and that they do indeed circulate in other systems.
So to conclude, we can play the concluding track. R. Murray Schafer says, and I quote--
[VARIOUS SOUND TONES]
"The ear of the dreamer, the ear of the shaman, the ear of the prophet, the ear of the schizophrenic share something in common. Messages are heard. Let us open our ears and start listening again so that we can hear what sounds at the margin. It is these sounds that will help expose the deafness of our institutions. What is the sound of the masks? Is it a piercing scream, or is it a deep a deep and haunting howl? Thank you.
POLLY NORDSTRAND: Thank you, Candice. I'd like to invite Professor Salah Hassan to provide commentary. Professor Hassan works at the intersection of African studies and art history as a visionary and interventionist. He's the Goldwin Smith Professor of Africana Studies and Research Center. He's a professor in the History of Art and Visual Studies department here at Cornell University.
Highlights of his incredibly distinguished career include a published text, Diaspora Memory Place in 2008, Unpacking Europe in 2001, most recently, Darfur and the Crisis of Governance in 2009, and Ibrahim El-Salahi A Visionary Modernist in 2012. And he's also the founder and editor of NKA, A Journal of Contemporary African Art.
He's curated several international exhibitions, including Authentic Eccentric, which was part of the 49th Venice Biennale in 2001, Unpacking Europe in Rotterdam from 2001 to 2002, and he's received many awards, including fellowships from the Getty, Ford, Rockefeller, Warhol, and Prince Claus Fund.
And so with that, we'd like to welcome Professor Salah Hassan to the podium to provide comments on Candice's paper.
SALAH HASSAN: Thank you. I just want to have one request.
Sorry. I'm just conspiring to do something. Not to come with a parallel presentation, but just a short video that I will share with you later on.
But first, as I'm sure many people did, start by acknowledging that we stand in Cayuga land. This is very important for us in Africana here historically because we are complicit, in a way, in what happened in this area. But it is actually Angela Davis, at some point, who initiated the tradition after a trip that she made into I think either New Zealand or Australia, where she realized that it's important to acknowledge that kind of deep history of appropriation of land of native people, and that, in a way, we are all complicit in this hegemonic colonial violent project that led to the appropriation of native land in this area. And we are, of course, very close to areas of dispute about the right to this land and so forth.
So let me first thank my colleague, Jolene Rickard, for inviting me to be a discussant in Candice Hopkins' presentation. I apologize to all of you and to Jolene for not being able to be here because of conflict, really, of the scheduling today. It has been an insane, crazy day for me, so I just arrived. And I actually sorry for myself, because in the process, of course, I missed a lot. I mean, if I can judge just by listening to Candice Hopkins' work, I can see that you had a very rich day of presentations that I missed. So I apologize for that.
In discussing Candice Hopkins' paper, I'm a little bit in a disadvantage for two reasons. One, I'm really not familiar with Native American art history or North American indigenous art history. I have seen through Jolene's presentations, and being a colleague of hers for many years, and also being in many of the international art biennials, and so I'm familiar with the work of Native Americans, and especially their contributions to modernism and to contemporary art.
And there is a lot of value to it for me, as someone who's interested in contemporary African art and African art in general, and the discourses around it in relation to similar issues, colonization, decolonization, post-colonial discourse and all of those things. So there is a lot of it there.
And the second thing is that I really didn't have access to the paper earlier, which is not a problem, because by listening I'm fine. I mean, I can make some things. So at least I can add to that by just bringing the comparison from my own experience as an Africanist, or African diaspora specialist, I think there are so many issues that are similar in terms of history. Of course, there is differences in terms of the issue of indigeneity, sovereignty, and so forth versus African diasporic populations and so forth.
But we share in the history of oppression. We share in the history of the effort to decolonize and so forth. I had a neighbor once that I had a dispute with, who was a white American, who told me to go back where I came from. So I told him, as far as I'm concerned, it's only Native Americans who can tell me this because we all came from some other place.
So anyway, what I'm trying to suggest is to really just work in a comparative way, is to kind of make an effort at comparison, and ask and raise some issues that may be helpful. It's a kind of a south-south. I consider the indigenous population as part of that south-south comparativism, not only just kind of north-south.
What inspired me, actually, to do that comparison is just looking at the biography of Candice Hopkins herself. And I was very curious about the show that she did, which actually, for granted for me the necessity of comparison, which is the show that brought an African-American artist and a Native American artist, which is your show that every stone tell a story, the performance work of David Hammons and Jimmie Durham.
I had the pleasure of actually working with both in different shows, one in Unpacking Europe, which I curated with Iftikhar Dadi, which we had Jimmie Durham. And of course, we had wonderful contribution to that show. And then David Hammons in the context of Dak'Art Three by Three, Diaspora Memory Place. And both of them involve some level of performance work.
And so it's wonderful to me that you brought them together. So I like, actually, anecdotes because they inform a lot of our historical discourse. So I wanted you to tell us more of how did that show go and how did it come about, because it would be interesting just to listen to your voice in this. So that is one.
So then, of course, what I said earlier, what draw my attention, or at least the direction that I'm taking now, is this issue of comparison because of the history of colonization. And when I think about the state of contemporary or modern African art, I see many of the issues that Candice raised are actually played out there for me as somebody who has been not only just teaching or is studying art history, African art history or contemporary African art history, but engaged at the level of practice in terms of curatorial interventions, a kind of charting similar trajectory in terms of really trying to position African, African-American artists in the mainstream, or at least to expand the narrative about history itself.
So I'm just going to kind of play for you a one-minute clip that I just saw yesterday. Somebody sent it to me.
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SALAH HASSAN: We have to listen to this kind of capitalist intervention.
- I've been incredibly interested for the last three or four years in the problem of immigration, and really the crisis of refugees. We're acutely aware of it today, in large part, because of what's happening in the Middle East and Europe. But actually, the problem of refugees is infecting every part of the world. We have a horrible situation that needs addressing.
To a large extent, many artists have been aware of this problem for years. Think a little bit about Bouchra Khalili, a Moroccan French artist who has been documenting the stories of immigrants now since 2008. She did something called The Mapping Project, which literally traces the roots of various immigrants as they have tried to get out of the Middle East to Europe. She lets each person tell his or her story in their words, in whatever language they want to speak, with subtitles.
The point about it is she takes this crisis, which, in a way, we can all become inured to because we're talking about millions of people, and she personalizes it. She makes us aware that it affects absolutely each person profoundly.
And there are artists like Kader Attia or Zineb Sedira, who are Algerian and French, for instance, and they share backgrounds across these different worlds. And they deal with problems of post-coloniality, they deal with problems of diversity. But they explore in their art what it means to become part of another society, and how those societies can accept or reject you.
Those artists, and many more, personalize the issue, make us aware of what it's like to be at the crisis point. But they also make us aware of the problem. And that's one of the great roles of art, to bring critical issues to our consciousness and to suggest ways of thinking about it.
SALAH HASSAN: I only use this example to say this, is that this is Glenn Lowry, the director of the MoMa. I mean, for me, what is striking about this video is that if you really have spoken to any director of MoMa or mainstream museums, you'll never hear this discourse about postcolonial studies, migration issues, identity issues, but also bringing into the fore issues of the names-- the names that he's using. Kader Attia, the Algerian artist, Zineb Sedira is an Algerian artist. And then Bouchra Khalili is a Moroccan artist.
This is, to me, is kind of a sea of change in the art world for a director of a museum. I have a lot of respect for him. I'm not using him here in a sarcastic manner, but just to say something must have happened in the mainstream art world, that is, to necessitate directors of mainstream institutions.
And I say this in contrast to the fact that the MoMA only last year appointed a special black curator, that is, Darby English, to kind of boost or kind of increase or at least focus on its black acquisition. Why would the MoMA wait until 2014 or '15 to kind of hire a special person to do that? And why Darby English, who is a controversial, actually, choice, considering his views about black art itself, which he voiced in a major essay about him when he was appointed in The New York Times. It was a feature one, one of those glossy essays with photographs and so forth that are staged.
But then ignoring the fact that there are lots of people in the black art scene, including Rick Powell, Thelma Golden, Kelly Jones, and so forth, who had much more curatorial experience and much more knowledge about what's happening. I'm just pointing to that as a contrast, but at the same time highlighting the fact that what happened to this institution? Why such a change that happen?
In fact, I was invited-- I think you were invited, too, at some point, to give a special presentation to the staff of the MoMa itself. That's in itself a great initiative. Mine was about African modernism. I'm not sure if they had what you presented, but it was along the same-- it's to teach the staff about other modernism other than that. It's a great initiative and should be applauded.
But what happened to the art world? I think it didn't happen out of the blue. And that's where I draw from the aspect of resistance in your talk, Candice, is that there is a culture of resistance that actually produce this kind of change, where director of a museum of modern art will talk about post-colonial issues, but also draw examples not from the typical names that you have at MoMa in their acquisition, but artists who are at the cutting edge from other places, and so forth. That would not have happened some years ago.
But why? And I give just a few examples from the culture of resistance. For example, many of you may recall the protests that accompanied the controversial show at the Met that's called Harlem in My Mind, which actually was meant to address the issues of exclusion into museum, but ended up being problematic because black artists actually resisted. And there are many other examples.
Of course, at that time, also, there are the feminist groups and Guerrilla girls and others also mounting some resistance to mainstream institutions. And also there is something else, is that in the history of African-American art, which is the creation of independent institutions, the Studio Museum in Harlem and so many others, which is partly necessitated as part of the cultural resistance and the need to actually intervene in the narrative and highlight the contributions of black artists.
But there was something else also, is that it was also necessitated by the culture of resistance that led to the creation of this institution historically, especially in the United States, and the history and the exclusionary practices within art history itself. So that's an interesting example in and of itself.
So there are also resistant in other forms in terms of curators and art historians of African origin or of African descent intervening in the field itself and changing its map by mounting retrospective or group shows and so forth. I mean, I can just tell from my own experience of the show of Ibrahim El-Salahi that end up at the Tate Modern. But what I want to tell you is the history of that show, it took about 15 years. He's a British citizen. He's of Sudanese descent, but he lived in London most of his life, the last 50 or so years of his life.
But not a single institution-- White Chapel, Camden Art Center, Tate Modern itself and Tate Britain originally kind of dismissed the show. It was only after it was mounted in the Sharjah Art Museum, funded by the Sharjah Art Foundation, when Jessica Morgan saw the show and, for the first time, to see the kind of prolific production of Ibrahim El-Salahi. And that what led to it moving to the Tate Modern. It was through this kind of thing.
So knowledge production becomes very important. And what I wanted to just end up with here is that a certain set of comments, but also in the form of question. One, that when I think about the African continent-- and I'm just comparing it here to Native America or indigenous America-- is what we're facing today, unlike in the early days of the post-independence where there's a lot of culture of hope, support for cultural, and so forth in places like Senegal, Sudan, and other places. That's when the early modernist artists that we know flourish.
But what we're going in now, in the post-structural I just mentioned-- crisis of the nation state, the devastating conditions of Africa's economy, wars and famines and dictatorship and so forth-- is a contradictory situation, meaning there is a burgeoning of creativity. But it's not supported by what we can call a parallel critical discourse. Unlike in the earlier, most of the artists themselves are novelists, like [INAUDIBLE] and others. They are writers.
They are writers, but they're artists in a way, but they also match that with a regime of criticism that matches activity. I was wondering how is that situation in terms of-- because what I can see here, a burgeoning of creativity, amazing interventions in the contemporary art scene conceptually, installation art, and so forth, is that match with the same.
There are, of course efforts that are generous, including ours, Nka-- Journal of Contemporary African Art, Gallery magazine, Revue Noire for some time, Black Renaissance. So there are efforts that are also a lot of interventions, through catalogs, retrospectives. That actually pushed the boundaries and made people like Glenn and others to pay attention to the art scene.
So I think I will just end up with this comment, and thank you so much. And not to mount another talk here. Thank you.
CANDICE HOPKINS: There we go. Thank you, Salah. I appreciate it. There is a definite movement that's happening. It's across Canada, and certainly some of that's pragmatic, because there's a great deal of support they're funding. There's a kind of discourse that a number of us have been involved in for a very long time.
I would say where it's shifting is what David Gardner was talking about previously, and that is the shift from what we would consider to be aboriginal, which is a kind of term that was developed by the federal government, into what is becoming increasingly international into indigenous. And of course, we're following political movements, and in many ways we're following the activism that led to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. But with this also flows creativity. So I think that's happening now.
And it's starting to happen more and more. There's always been, from my experience, a kind of disconnect between practices that are happening in South and Central America, and also in Mexico, and then practices that are happening in the US and Canada. And that's finally starting to change because there's always been, I think, more of a relationship between, actually, nations and indigenous peoples who shared the same colonizer, whether it be Britain or-- so then we share a language. And then there's been a great deal of exchange. But I think that is now starting to shift.
CANDICE HOPKINS: Yeah. So I proposed that show when I was graduating from my master's program. And of course, there's always stories that go with this. I know that many of you probably know that David Hammons is known for refusing a lot of things that are brought forward to him. I, of course, I thought it was important to sort of dream about what would be an incredible exhibition that I could pose on my $2,000 budget at Ramapo College in New Jersey.
And so I ended up working, in fact, with a lot of his collaborators, people who had worked with him to document, at that time, what were not well-known performances, like the time when he was installing at MoMA. And he was playing Miles Davis and dancing in the gallery, which I think there's now a picture that circulates of that performance. But at that time it had never been made public.
And also the video work of Jimmie Durham. When he first approached David Hammons' gallerist to ask him if we could borrow some works for this exhibition, she first said, well, he doesn't show with any other black artists, which kind of dumbfounded me. And then I said, well, Jimmie's Cherokee. And then she said, well, I don't want him to show with other outsider artists. So there was a lot of refusal that happened, and a lot of protection. I didn't get to talk to him directly. But I know Jimmie was incredibly humbled to be shown with who he considers to be a collaborator.
So the reason why I keep publicizing that exhibition when it was, in fact, quite a small show is because I had these hopes that it could happen again on a different scale in a different place.
POLLY NORDSTRAND: I think we have a lot of important-- do you have one more question, Ruth? OK. Yeah. So we'll have one question, and then we'll move to a wonderful reception hosted by the art history department. We invite you to join us for the reception. Ruth?
RUTH: I'll try to make it quick. But both Salah's commentary, and of course, Candice's paper were very provocative and, again, raised many questions. I've been intrigued and perturbed for many years, as someone who started out in African art and now works in Native American, about the difference between how black traditions are positioned in North American museums, and especially in the US.
And when it all came to a head was when the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston reinstalled its American collections, and also the Whitney, where in the 20th century sections, they integrate African-American art. There is no Native American art. The only Native American art, when I saw the MFA show in Boston a few years ago, was in the basement, integrated into the historical material, which was basically the 17th century floor, whereas on the 20th century floor, there's a lot of African-American. And there was then no Native American.
And just--I mention it as a sign of something. I see a big difference between, from my less informed position, what goes on in contemporary art and what goes on in modern art and modernism. And I wonder if you would both be interested in commenting on that.
CANDICE HOPKINS: I can only provide an anecdote. And that is that I certainly see the difference, too. There was a friend of mine-- an artist, Duane Linklater, was on this open forum. The Whitney had an open forum one day where you could ask curators questions. And he said, why doesn't the Whitney have more native artists in its collection, and why haven't they shown more work? And they said, well, other museums do that. That was their response, even in a contemporary context.
SALAH HASSAN: I think in the context of modern African art, in the US, modern African art and modern African-American, some of them are included. I mean, if you talk about Jacob Lawrence and that kind of group of people, they are somewhat given, actually, retrospective and so forth. But it's almost like unless you're dead you can't get a retrospective, or you're about to die or something like that.
But I think with more books, with more dissertations that are coming now, I can see that major institutions are actually vying to try to incorporate African-American modernists. Luckily, the Studio Museum had been doing that, not on a scale of a retrospective because the space itself is not that big, but gradually, at least, bringing to light the stories of earlier, even revisiting things that the Studio Museum itself, in the past, didn't pay attention to, for example, the black art movement, and groups that have not considered or recognized by the mainstream as producing good art that is only provocative or art of agitation and so forth.
So there is a change that is happening as a result of the scholarship and the push. And so there are many good dissertation now, I would say, that are now being produced into book to bring to light the story of African-American modernists. And I expect in the next few years, there will be a series of these retrospectives.
POLLY NORDSTRAND: Again, I'd like to thank you. We've had a really long day. Are you going to do the closing, Mia? OK. We're going to do a small closing this evening. We opened this morning with faith keeper Peter Jemison. And we're going to follow the tradition of the Oneida people at the recitation of the great law two years ago. And we're going to ask a young woman who's actually a graduate of Cornell University, Mia McKee, to do what's called a small closing for us.
We'd like to thank everybody in the room, and for our live streaming audience, for joining us for what I think is a conversation that had many fresh openings. And I've heard a lot of these kinds of presentations, and I really appreciate the kind of thinking that all three of our invited speakers, and certainly my colleagues, brought to the discussion here this afternoon.
So [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]. And so with a small closing, and for those of you that are signing off, thanks for joining us.
MIA: [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]
POLLY NORDSTRAND: Please enjoy the reception.
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Keynote address by Candice Hopkins (Carcross/Tagish First Nation) Curatorial Advisor for documenta 14 and writer. Respondent: Salah M. Hassan, Goldwin Smith Professor, Africana Studies and Research Center, History of Art and Visual Studies Department, Cornell University. Part of the Indigenous Methodologies and Art History conference held at Cornell on April 29, 2016, hosted by the American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program (AIISP) and the Department of the History of Art and Visual Studies.