Here’s a slice of the American story designed to knock your block off. In the works since 2001, this collaboration between the Eiteljorg and Washington, D.C.’s Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian is the first major exhibition to explore the tangled, dynamic and, at times, perverse relations between African- and Native Americans.
Red/Black spans an historic swath that begins with the 16th century slave trade and stretches to a January 2011 judge’s ruling over whether Cherokee Freedmen are rightfully to be considered members of the Cherokee tribe. Artifacts on display include drums, ceramics, textiles and weapons, as well as the slave trader’s iron shackles – found here alongside Indian “slave straps,” made of leather.
As the exhibit documents, Indians and Blacks were often enslaved together and Indians sometimes harbored runaway slaves. But some tribes, especially in the southeast, were slave-holders themselves. A Cherokee, Stand Waite, was the last Confederate General to surrender at the end of the Civil War.
This carefully researched and astringently unsentimental show combines a rich array of archival materials with contemporary works of art and technology: you can use an iPad to play a game called “Guess My Race,” designed by the Race Awareness Project.
In all, it’s a richly startling experience that may shake your settled notions about American identities and how we assign and choose the parts we play. Be prepared to take some time when you visit; there is a feast of information to absorb and digest. Runs through August 7, 2011.
(Slideshow) Red/Black @ the Eiteljorg
David Hoppe gives this exploration of Native American and African American culture 5 stars.