Show signals cultural renaissance for Coast SalishBy Sheila FarrSeattle Times art criticSeattle has missed the boat when it comes to honoring the region's Native American heritage.The symbols of civic pride placed at the Pike Place Market and Pioneer Square actually trace to the Haida people, of southern Alaska and coastal British Columbia."The totem poles tell a story — they're beautiful — but they're not indigenous to our area. It has nothing to do with us," says Cecile Hansen, chairwoman of the Duwamish Tribe, whose renowned chief the city of Seattle is named for.She and other Coast Salish people hope to set the record straight when an unprecedented exhibition opens Friday at Seattle Art Museum. "S'abadeb — The Gifts: Pacific Coast Salish Art and Artists" showcases the living culture of some 70 tribes and groups — including the Duwamish, the Suquamish, the Muckleshoot, the Tulalip, the Puyallup, the Saanich and the Cowichan peoples — whose territory once encompassed the Puget Sound region, together with the sites of Seattle and Vancouver and Victoria, B.C.The show is unique because it erases the artificial boundary between Native American and First Nations groups in Canada and the U.S. and offers greater understanding of a cultural heritage that has long been overlooked."We all come from different areas, but we are all Native American people. We're family. We're the indigenous people of the territory," Hansen says. She made it clear her support for the project was based on its including everyone.With that in mind, Seattle Art Museum curator Barbara Brotherton sent letters to Coast Salish tribes and advisory groups, inviting them to participate in planning the show. Some 40 people came together and worked through all the issues that normally would fall to the curator and museum staff: choosing a theme, selecting objects, interpreting the objects and deciding what kind of message they wanted the exhibition to convey.They chose early examples of weaving as well as rare contemporary mountain-goat-wool garments woven by Susan Pavel and Bill James. Baskets from the 19th century, used for clam gathering, berry picking and food storage, contrast with baskets by contemporary masters who use traditional methods to create new forms."We hope to provide a platform for accurately understanding the traditions of Coast Salish people," says Brotherton, who organized the exhibition. "We want to demonstrate that they are unique, important and meaningful in their own way, without comparison to other Northwest groups; that they have these really long, deep traditions."After decades of suppression, Northwest Native cultures have been steadily rebuilding, she says. "There is a tremendous renaissance in Salish culture occurring right now."Wisdom of eldersThat rebirth is evident not only in the revitalized traditions of carving, weaving and basketry that distinguish the Coast Salish, but in the work of young artists like Matika Wilbur, of Swinomish/Tulalip heritage. While studying photography at the Rocky Mountain School of Photography in Montana and the Brooks Institute in California, Wilbur began a project close to her heart: documenting tribal elders."For the last four years, I've been photographing different tribal elders from Coast Salish tribes, pairing the images with quotations from them — just to spread the message that there are living, breathing contemporary Native people that are thriving," said Wilbur, 24. "I work a lot in Los Angeles, and a lot of people there don't know anything about sovereignty, about tribal people existing in society."Wilbur said she felt utterly displaced when she left the familiarity of "the rez" and encountered an alien set of social norms at school."I grew up in a unified society where we all had the same values. I'd talk to my classmates and think, 'What do you mean you don't believe in a higher power?' ... It was necessary for me to re-evaluate everything about my whole culture. Is there anything that culturally defines me?"When I went back, I asked those questions to the elders. I remember one told me: 'It doesn't matter what religion you believe in, just believe in the good, and that's OK.' "In "S'abadeb" (pronounced Sah-BAH-deb), Wilbur's photographs of tribal elders will hang near early-20th-century photographs by Edward Curtis, who used props and costumes in many of his stereotypical images of Native Americans. The idea of contrasting the work was presented to Wilbur by curator Brotherton, and the young photographer showed her contemporary sensibility by embracing it."A lot of people think [Curtis'] work is controversial because they say it was so staged. As a photographer, personally I think everything is staged. The world is as we see it, not as it is ... The way you and I view a bowl of ice cream could be different because of our associations."Wilbur thinks the contrast between the different visions will be informative. "You have an inside perspective and an outside perspective, and a time difference. I think the words people read will help them connect."Cultural treasuresObjects in "S'abadeb" were loaned from dozens of public and private collections. Some pieces were originally collected by Capt. George Vancouver in 1792 and are returning to the Northwest from abroad. Among the treasures are an 18th-century carved potlatch figure and a food dish in the shape of a human body, borrowed from the British Museum. An early-19th-century model canoe revisits the Northwest from a museum in Scotland. A carved bone figure from the Burke Museum dates to before 1200 A.D.These artworks anchor the show and reveal what Coast Salish aesthetics were like before European contact. In the course of the next century, Native lives changed irrevocably. Diseases ravaged the population; people were shifted from their homes to reservations; children were taken from their families to boarding schools and forbidden to speak their own language, wear traditional clothing, or practice their religious beliefs and customs."It's an amazing thing to wrap your head around," Brotherton said. "More changes took place in that 100 years than in the previous 6,000."In the past, museums often displayed Native American artworks with little sensitivity to the private nature of some objects. One obvious difference that sets "S'abadeb" apart is an acknowledgment that not every cultural treasure is meant for public viewing.Joey Caro of the Penelakut Tribe in British Columbia served as an adviser for "S'abadeb." He says the discussions about what was appropriate for display sometimes got intense."There were long debates and talks about how to proceed on the sacred regalia. They had the sacred rattles — it's an inherited right for people to use these rattles. They are for sacred work, not for entertainment. Equally as important are the spirit masks. ... These are considered living objects, and you have to be careful how you relate to them."For many hundreds and thousands of years [Coast Salish] have been practicing these ways. There's a path you have to follow. If you stray from that, you lose your prestige, you lose your power. So, there was a huge debate: How can we share it and still protect it?"Brotherton says that's why she convened such a large group of Native consultants. "That process assured as much as possible that there wouldn't be objects or discussions that are of a private nature or aren't appropriate to display in a museum. Some people may lament and say, 'Those are great things, those masks and rattles, why can't they be shown?' The fact of the matter is that they exist in an arena that is carefully controlled ... and that has to be respected."In the exhibition, visitors will encounter seven empty pedestals, with labels and recorded sound to help convey a sense of ideas or objects that don't belong in an art exhibit. One pedestal references the repatriation of ancestral remains that have been unearthed at building sites or excavations."What we've done," Brotherton said, "is create an empty pedestal with the sound of artists carving boxes, like the hundreds of boxes that have been made for reburials. Then the label says, 'It is time, more than time, for our ancestors to be brought back to a place that's warm and comforting.' "Sheila Farr: email@example.com
Tulalip artist in ‘Indigenous Voices Reply’ at Burke MuseumBy SARAH ARNEYMarysville Globe Arts & Leisure May 26 2009 A photographer of Swinomish and Tulalip descent, Matika Wilbur is participating in a show running May 30 - Nov. 29 at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture at the University of Washington.The exhibit provides an opportunity for Northwest Indians to respond to the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, which celebrated the explosion of development in Washington state since the 1897 Yukon Gold Rush. The exposition showcased the resources of the region, including representations of indigenous cultures from around the Pacific in ways that would seem abhorrent in 2009.“It really was quite appalling what they did in the AYP,” Wilbur said.She doesn’t want to “re-traumatize” the audience and strives to show the truth about her people.“It’s frustrating to me that all the Indian art is represented by white gallery owners,” Wilbur said. “They don’t really differentiate the Tlingit and the Cherokee from the Coastal Salish people,” she said.Wilbur strives to break the boxes of stereotypes and show the truth about her people. The images to be shown at the Burke are from her “We Emerge” series which was first presented to the public at the 2008 Folklife Festival.A graduate of LaConner High School, Wilbur studied photography at the Rocky Mountain School of Photography and then enjoyed an opportunity with National Public Radio to go out and photograph indigenous peoples around the world.“I ended up mostly in Ecuador and South America,” Wilbur told The Arlington Times from her Seattle studio.“After that project, I decided I should photograph my own people,” she said, adding she did a collection of Swinomish elders, which the Swinomish Tribe acquired, and then the Tulalip, Samish and Nooksack tribes asked her to do the same for them.“I asked the elders and thought a lot about what it means to be Indian,” she said.“It was a real honor for me, a growing process,” Wilbur said, adding she is working on a new project, collaborating with other Indian artists to create a short film. She has now opened Gallery M in LaConner but continues to live and work in her Seattle studio.The Burke Museum exhibit will juxtapose historic objects and photographs from the 1909 fair with contemporary artwork by Native artists to explore how representations of indigenous people and cultures have changed over the past 100 years.Along with Wilbur, artists featured in “A-Y-P: Indigenous Voices Reply” include stone carver Tony Ayala (Santa Barbara Chumash), mixed-media Philip John Charette (Yup’ik), weaver MaryLou Slaughter (Duwamish), multi-media Nick Galanin (Tlingit/Aleut), glass by Preston Singletary (Tlingit/Filipino/European), multimedia artist Tanis S’eiltin (Tlingit), multimedia artist David Neel (Kwagiutl).The curator of Native American art at the Burke Museum, Robin Wright explained the intent of the 2009 exhibit is to create a bridge between contemporary indigenous communities and the Burke’s collection of ethnographic objects from those communities.“The exhibit is an opportunity for Native people to use the Burke’s collections to voice their sentiments on representation, resistance and revival,” Wright said.The Burke Museum is located at the corner of Northeast 45th Street and 17th Avenue Northeast on the University of Washington campus.The museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily and until 8 p.m. on the first Thursday each month, when admission is free.
Seattle Commemorates First World's Fairby Matthew KangasWith over 4 million people attending, the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition was the biggest thing that had ever happened to Seattle since the Great Fire of 1889. Building on earlier world's fairs in Chicago and St. Louis, A-Y-P meant education, culture, commerce and entertainment for everyone who attended. Looking back 100 years to Seattle's first world's fair, it's worth having a longer look at the event and thinking it over. Puget Sound area residents and visitors can smile at how similar to -- and different from -- today's world the many issues and problems were. Native Americans and other ethnic peoples were put on display in addition to their art. Public transportation, city parks and the roles of women in society were hotly discussed and contested. Local planners were trumped by out-of-town architects all too ready to advise, collect their fees, and leave town. Sound familiar?Besides that, in their own version of globalization, local fair entrepreneurs touted the extraction and exploitation of natural resources from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Alaska, Canada, Pacific Rim nations, and Asia both coming into the Port of Seattle and leaving it for all points east and west.All this is addressed in a series of exhibitions and symposia at Seattle's two most important history museums, The Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture at the University of Washington and the Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI) in the Montlake neighborhood.The newly made glass-negative prints in "Photographing the Fair" at MOHAI (to Dec. 31, 2009) are a starting point, but do not begin to capture the bizarre excitement of the boosterism, honky-tonk sideshows and pretentious Neo-Classical exhibit buildings. Held on the University of Washington campus, several of the structures remain for viewers to actually see today including the forestry building, the palace of fine arts (now Architecture Hall), Washington women's building (now Cunningham Hall) and Drumheller Fountain.As the curators point out, photography itself was a novelty and considered one of the many technological wonders on display (like the telephone), the most celebrated of which was an automated salmon gutter with the atrocious moniker "Iron Chink" because it replaced Chinese cannery workers.Tacky A-Y-P souvenirs are also on view in a section of MOHAI's adjacent permanent exhibit, "Essential Seattle." After viewing the 30 scenes of absurdly imposing structures housing the industrial, technological, agricultural, cultural, national and entertainment venues, visitors can see the real sheet music, French-made porcelain decal plates and vases, wooden shingles and a dress made of canvas promoting women's suffrage.Frank H. Nowell (1864-1950) had a lock on the official fair photography. Highly respected, his shots of the Far North were used in Chaplin's 1925 silent film, "The Gold Rush." He oversaw 16 photographers chronicling the fair as well as handling lucrative souvenir portraiture.The fairgrounds were designed by Olmsted Bros. of New York, the architects of Central Park whose plans for the fair also included a long-range strategy of parks all over the city. If the 1962 "Century 21" world's fair gave us Seattle Center as a legacy, the Olmsteds' plans for A-Y-P gave us a park system only partially implemented. Lavish plantings surrounded pavilions sponsored by Japan, Sweden, India, Canada, Russia, Turkey and Persia. Smaller buildings were for Alaska, the Yukon, New York state, California, Formosa (now Taiwan) and Idaho.The day the fair opened, June 1, 1909, the Japanese fleet was moored in Elliott Bay. It symbolized a tacit agreement between U.S. President Taft and the Japanese Emperor about carving up control of the Pacific Rim. We colonized the Philippines, Hawaii and Alaska; they were free to take over Korea and Formosa.As Robin K. Wright, Burke Museum curator of "A-Y-P: Indigenous Voices Reply," (to Nov. 29) notes, the whole affair spotlit extensively orchestrated, degrading displays of indigenous and aboriginal groups. Her new exhibition rights several wrongs. "Our whole motivation with this show is to provide an opportunity for indigenous peoples to reply to the appalling racism of the A-Y-P."Working with an advisory committee and the Native American Studies Association, Wright requested artists to respond to how Native Americans were depicted at the fair. A combination of juried and invited entries led to 16 artists who represent various regional tribes such as Duwamish, Tlingit, Aleut, Kwagiutl, and Swinomish. Each created an artwork that dialogues with another artwork either in the original fair or that is in the Burke's permanent collection. The art and artifacts attempt to place into relief the perhaps unconscious, perhaps deliberate, racist contexts revolving around Indians in 1909. Photographing the Fair:The Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition Photos of Frank H. Nowell and OthersMuseum of History and Industry (MOHAI)2700 24th Ave. E., Seattlethrough December 31, 2009A-Y-P: Indigenous Voices ReplyThe Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, University of Washington, May 30-November 29, 2009A-Y-P Centennial SymposiumMOHAI, June 20-21, 2009, with lectures by architectural historians David Streatfield, Leland Roth and others.Discovering A-Y-P ConferenceMOHAI, October 2-3, 2009featuring new historical research "interrogating the meanings of the fair through multiple perspectives."Caroline Burke and friends dressed in Native American costume on the porch of her home, Seattle, Washington, 1909, photograph by Frank H. Nowell, courtesy Special Collections Division, University of Washington Libraries, neg. no. Nowell 3549. On view in "A-Y-P: Indigenous Voices Reply," May 30-Nov. 29, Burke Museum, SeattleChenoa, by Matika Wilbur (Swinomish/Tulalip), 2008, sepia tone photograph, 23" x 22.75". On view in "A-Y-P: Indigenous Voices Reply," May 30-November 29, Burke Museum, Seattle.Poisoned, Phillip CharetteShaman's Headdress, by Garrett Jackson, Tlingit. On view in "A-Y-P: Indigenous Voices Reply," May 30-November 29, Burke Museum, SeattleEven the media was culpable in its condescending coverage under the guise of objective journalism, another lesson we can learn when reading today's media contributions. For example, the Seattle Times marveled at a luncheon for white women prepared by Myrtle Seattle, grand-daughter of Chief Seattle, whose cooking was described as "appetizing" and "up-to-date" compared to traditional Indian food that was "crude" and "coarse." Prostitution, referred to as "white slave traffic," was another headline grabber. Volunteer women monitors kept an eye out for men preying on unaccompanied young women throughout the entire run."Representation, resistance, re-appropriation and revival" are Wright's main themes in her survey of living Native artists making connections to the original exposition. A century later, they offer a mixture of anger, satire, reverence and innovation. One Tlingit artist, Garrett Jackson, is also the great-grandson of Lt. George T. Emmons whose collection of artifacts was on view in the Alaska pavilion, later acquired in toto by the Burke. Jackson noted, "I really enjoy studying the old pieces my ancestors made, and trying to capture the same feeling and traditions in my work."The leading Native American artist working in glass, Preston Singletary, has created a glass storage chest based on Tlingit cedar boxes. MaryLou Slaughter wove a cedar bark hat similar to the one in a famous photo of her ancestor Chief Seattle. Salish woodcarvings, Aleut carved bowls, and Yup'ik masks are joined by photographs, videotapes, as well as installation art by Bellingham artist Tanis S'eiltin. More than other contemporary artists, Native Americans owe a debt to the past while bringing badly needed fresh points of view.As both museum exhibitions underscore, the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition of 1909 may have had its glaring blind spots and overwhelming commercial motives, but it remains a fascinating documentary record of where Seattle was at the time and, by extension, how America reacted to its role in the wider world.MATTHEW KANGAS, consulting editor to Art Guide Northwest, is the author of Relocations: Selected Art Essays and Interviews (Midmarch Arts Press, New York). Copyright © Matthew Kangas, 2009
Makita Wilbur's artistic photographs capture the essence of contemporary Native American elders from Coast Salish Tribes. Her work has been displayed at Swinomish and Tulalip, as well as the Seattle Art Museum. -- Burke Museum of Natural HIstory, Seattle WA