Centering Justice: Indigenous Artists’ Perspectives on Art in Public Space
Virtual Symposium
September 22-24, 2020

Organized by Erin Genia, Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota (SMACT ’19)

Our society and world have shifted in unprecedented ways this year, bringing us not only a pandemic, but also a reckoning on institutional racism in America. Monuments to colonial and Confederate symbols have been removed and come under scrutiny while critical perspectives on artwork in public spaces have become urgent.

This year is also the 400th anniversary of the landing of English separatists at Patuxet—known today as Plymouth, Massachusetts—where festivities lauding the American colonial project are underway.

Recognizing that celebrations of colonization marginalize Indigenous people and minimize the realities for generations of people affected by genocide, slavery, and ethnic cleansing, we are presenting Centering Justice: Indigenous Artists’ Perspectives on Public Art. This virtual symposium aims to provide a critical counterpoint to these activities and create pathways for a strong Indigenous presence in public spaces that continue to exclude Native American peoples on their own land.

On September 22, 23, and 24, we will host Indigenous artists and cultural practitioners from local, regional, and national tribal communities who are working across a range of art forms. They will come together as thought leaders to present their visions for how art in public space can generate momentum to increase intercultural understanding, build community, and bring about vital transformational change.

As our panelists give their perspectives on the economic, ecological, cultural, and social justice dimensions of art in public space, they will address such questions as: How do monumental artworks and other public infrastructure contribute to Indigenous peoples’ ongoing invisibility in the public sphere? How can art in public space address institutional racism and challenge colonial mechanisms that persist in governing our societal systems? What must shift so that Indigenous artists have equal access to public art opportunities?

In addition to the two-day symposium, there will also be a pre-symposium discussion on September 22, co-hosted by NEFA and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) as a part of the Public Art, Public Memory discussion series. Public Art, Public Memory explores the role that planners, artists, and government staff can play in promoting more just and inclusive public spaces through public art and community history.

Indigenous artists’ interventions into the practice of public art contributes powerfully to the process of healing colonized peoples and places. Considerations that are embedded in notions of public space within our settler-colonial society—such as the erasure of Indigenous peoples and histories and the supplanting of Western doctrines over Indigenous cultures—influence how the work is understood and received. The symposium will examine these issues and explore how Indigenous artists overcome the barriers to bringing forth their multidimensional perspectives in the public realm to communicate our deep relationships to each other and the world around us.

Erin Genia, Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota (SMACT ’19)

Symposium Schedule

The symposium will be from September 22 – 24th; the panel session times and links to panel descriptions below: