Reclamation Through Transformation:
Re-Presenting Native American Archival History
Artwork by Students from Flandreau Indian School and artwork from the VAC Permanent Collection
Now – February 25, 2024
Visual Arts Center | Egger Gallery
In this exhibition, Native American students from Flandreau Indian School have reimagined history by creating art from archival materials. Their work is displayed alongside artwork from the Visual Arts Center Northern Plains Tribal Collection, creating connections and promoting native voices and perspectives. The resulting exhibition was co-curated with a Native American student curator that allows for transformation of those archival materials by re-presenting them as reauthored and reclaimed.
The Great Plains geographic region is an area that was occupied by Native Americans prior to colonialism and genocide by American settlers. Currently, the state of South Dakota is home to nine federally and state recognized tribes. While Native Americans are an important part of the state’s (and nation’s) history, the visible or recognized experiences of such peoples are largely absent in academic institutions (such as archival museums). This absence mimics the systemic cultural and historical shortcomings of our nation’s ongoing relationship with Native Americans. We believe that facilitating any form of cultural recognition and reflexivity is a primary goal to serve the public good; however, it is important that the object for cultural recognition and reflexivity rest firmly within Native American ownership.
Thanks to the support of a “Humanities Research for the Public Good—Sustaining Good” Grant from the Council for Independent Colleges, Augustana University faculty created academic programming for students from Flandreau Indian School (FIS) that combined archival research with creative expression. FIS students responded to the archival absences and inequities through the “re-presentation” of archival data via “transformative reuse” of the material. Students were presented with collections housed in the Center for Western Studies (CWS) archive on Augustana’s campus, to review and select materials for reproduction. These students used the reproductions to create artworks that respond to institutionalized repression and archival silences by re-presenting this archival material that they have reauthored and reclaimed.
The process of bringing Native American students to the CWS archives and providing them with the skills, tools and access to work with archival materials creates a structural pathway for re-presentation of history. Additionally, supporting Native American curatorial agency in the gallery space further challenges the social and academic construction of “Native” artwork and exhibitions. This enables Native American students to reinterpret and re-present existing archival materials, creating new inclusion of Native voices that have been silenced or unrecognized institutionally and historically.
South Dakota Arts Council support is provided with funds from the State of South Dakota, through the Department of Tourism, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Florence Romero Wakasote
Crystal Sioda Fast Horse