Lieutenant Richard Henry Pratt thought his Native American education project was a noble one. The year was 1875. Charged with guarding 72 Cheyenne, Kiowa, Comanche, Arapaho, and Caddo prisoners from the Red River War at the Fort Marion internment camp, Pratt removed the shackles of his prisoners, and instituted educational and cultural programs. He recruited teachers and missionaries, and supplied paper, pencils, crayons, ink, and watercolor, encouraging the Native prisoners to create art. He raised funds to send 20 of the prisoners to college, and used his education model to campaign for American Indian boarding schools.
These schools prohibited Native children from speaking their languages or practicing their religion, removed them from their families, and resulted in what is now understood to be cultural genocide.
For “Re-Riding History: From the Southern Plains to the Matanzas Bay,” a traveling exhibit now on view at All My Relations Gallery, curators Emily Arthur, Marwin Begaye, and John Hitchcock have invited 72 artists to reflect on the experience of imprisonment at Fort Marion, which is now known as Castillo de San Marcos, its original name from when it was a masonry fort in the late 1600s.
With drawings, prints, and mixed-media works, the show also includes photography and one sculptural piece. Participating artists in the show are both Native and non-Native. Some artists are descendants of prisoners from Pratt’s tenure, or during a later tenure from 1886-1887, when 491 Apache were held at the site.
All of the works are the same size, many of them incorporating leger. The form has roots in Plains hide painting, depicting battle scenes or hunting feats. As the buffalo began to disappear, and tribes were forced off their homes and into reservations and internment camps, Native artists employed the government-issued leger paper and material provided to them to continue their artistic traditions.
Many of the artists in “Re-Riding History” use the leger art technique to deconstruct history, layering critique onto found government papers, school textbooks, and pop-culture media that propagates stereotypes.
For History Lesson II, Lynne Allen defiantly writes with an indigenous language on a worksheet about Manifest Destiny, while Dolores Purdy’s Hunting Any Food that Moves colorfully depicts warriors hunting reindeer. Other intriguing leger works include John Hitchcock’s Blood for Christ, featuring an accumulation of buffalo skulls, and Trail’s End, in which Fred Stonehouse takes a Texas and Louisiana railroad company's accounting page and paints a creature being shot at by arrows that’s a cross between a cow and a horse.
One particularly stirring piece, by Faisal Abdu’Allah, intersperses the words “Samuel George Morton You’re a Stupid Motherfucker,” amidst a lengthy racist diatribe by a craniologist.
Some of the artists, like Molly Murphy Adams and Dyani White Hawk, incorporate traditional Native arts, such as quill or bead work, with archival images as a way of re-interpreting history.
Though all of the works on paper are relatively small, they are overwhelming when taken in as a whole, as they look back at history not as one linear narrative, but as a kaleidoscope of many experiences and perspectives of oppression, trauma, and cultural genocide.
IF YOU GO:
Through March 4
All My Relations