5 stars

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.