This past fall I travelled to New York to be part of the Vera List Center’s Indigenous New York, Curatorially Speaking. Organized in two parts—a closed curatorial colloquium followed by a public forum—the event focused on four key inquiries: Indigenous and non-Indigenous epistemologies and methodologies; the non-colonial museum; the challenges of collaborative curation; and the growing Indigenization of international art.
In partnership with Trista Mallory (an instructor for Curatorial Studies at the Whitney Museum’s Independent Study Program), her and I were tasked with facilitating conversations about Indigenous and non-Indigenous epistemologies and methodologies. In presenting a summary of the intimate conversations at the public forum, we decided to share specific strategies that people had used in these kinds of cross-cultural translations. Here are some of the tactics that were shared with us (and presented at the forum with consent):
- It was repeatedly emphasized that conversations around how to negotiate between Indigenous paradigms of understanding and settler-colonial world views have been going on for hundreds and hundreds of years, long preceding the rhetorics of decolonization or reconciliation that are flourishing today. Complexity and nuance can be built on these sturdy foundations—if we tend to them.
- Sometimes opacity is deliberate. Not everything need be translated. And perhaps it is useful to feel oneself in a position of not-knowing.
- The goal of speaking to one another may not be belonging as conceptualized by citizenship or knowing as represented by academia.
- Listening is a durational practice.
- It is sometimes useful to build alliances with the people who have the capacity to say “no” to your ideas and propositions, with the goal of getting closer to a future “yes.”
- There is an interpretive gap between Indigenous epistemologies and settler history that can be broached, in part, through starting any story earlier.
Other speakers included David Garneau, Candice Hopkins, David Joselit, Ruba Katrib, Wanda Nanibush and Elisabeth Sussman, all of them generously and carefully taking up the colloquium’s core concerns. Check out all the brilliant things they had to say, below: