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.