Rachel Telushkin: Think deeper about Biennial decision

Published: 10/15/2021 3:58:16 PM

There have been so many letters to the editor and articles about the Biennial art show; I am surprised at the level of passion it has evoked and how one-sided the coverage has been.

I would like to take the space to express my outrage and sorrow at something else, the residential school atrocity. In 1891, the U.S. enacted into law that “all” Native children were to be forcibly removed from their families and communities and sent to distant residential facilities. Modeled on prisoners of war camp, the children were brutally indoctrinated and abused. For over 150 years, hundreds of thousands of Indigenous children were taken from their communities, in the U.S. and in Canada, where the model was exported.

Schools had their own cemeteries to bury the many children who died there; put in unmarked graves and never to come back to their families. In Canada, they have found over 1,000 children so far. Families who resisted were imprisoned. The sole purpose of the residential school was to destroy Native American culture and identity.

It is within this context and the context of the whole history of stolen land, trauma, and lack of acknowledgement of present day Native Americans, that we all live and therefore, the Biennial also exists. It also exists within a context of the art world itself, which from museums to schools to persecution of graffiti artists is rife with racism.

We can choose to ignore the context and continue to replicate the trauma, or we can choose to stop — even in an imperfect way — and reflect on the context and history we are all a part of. The artist who created the “ghosts” work declined to withdraw her work and refused to rethink the harm it caused.

The Gazette has, in fact, repeatedly promoted her work, even using it for the op-ed by Jessica Tam about racism against Asian Americans and the problem of invisibility. A follow-up article posed the question if this person is due an apology, but, amazingly, does not offer the question for Jason Montgomery, who has actually been targeted with death threats.

The contexts of the residential school atrocity and events of today are all connected. Let’s use the moment to focus on the suggestions of the Arts Council: “to sit with your discomfort, reflect alongside us, and try to respect this decision.” We should also reflect on what Jason Montgomery called for: the larger issue overshadowing the Biennial of a society dominated by whites, including in the art world. This is where the discussion should start.

Rachel Telushkin

Easthampton


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