On learning from Native American Realness
January 5, 2017
I am writing to acknowledge and publicly respond, on behalf of American Realness, to Rosy Simas’ open letter concerning Latifa Laâbissi’s Self Portrait Camouflage as presented by MoMA PS1 as a part of American Realness 2017.
This project is presented by MoMA PS1 and was incorporated into American Realness as part of an ongoing programming partnership. When I first encountered the project, I saw it as a work from a Moroccan-French Arab woman that focused on immigration and had resonance with marginalized communities around the world. I failed in my process of critically examining and understanding the complex implications of presenting this work through the lens of “American Realness.” My actions were unconsidered and this failure speaks to the genocide of Native American / Indigenous / First Nations peoples across the US and around the world, as well as the attempted white-supremacist erasure of these people, their history, cultures and sacred objects. I acknowledge and apologize to Native American / Indigenous / First Nations communities and Latifa Laâbissi, her collaborators, and my colleagues at MoMA PS1 for this failure and its particularly egregious nature as a festival that aims to illuminate authenticity and critical examinations of American-ness; as a program that prides itself on being a space for marginal identities; as a white male curator with no history of presenting work by Native American / Indigenous / First Nations people; in the face of Native American struggles and resistance against the Dakota Access Pipeline.
I am grateful to Rosy Simas, Christopher Morgan, Emily Johnson and those that have participated in recent dialogue for calling this out. My understanding inside this discourse has lead me to the conclusion that I must withdraw “American Realness” as contextual framework from MoMA PS1’s upcoming presentation as I feel “American Realness,” provokes readings of the work that are unsupportive of the artist’s intentions.
I encourage those interested in the issues raised in these discussions to attend Native American Realness, as part of the American Realness 2017 discourse series, Saturday January 7, 3:45pm – 5:15pm at 22 Boerum Place. A free public conversation with Rosy Simas, Christopher K. Morgan and Sara Nash (New England Foundation for the Arts), this event seeks to investigate how our dominant culture’s historical insensitivity aids in forms of cultural appropriation, Redface, and racism in artistic practice, spectatorship and presenting. The event additionally aims to introduce audiences to the work of select Native American / Indigenous / First Nations artists.
Additionally, on Sunday January 8, Emily Johnson/Catalyst hosts Umyuangvigkaq: PS122 Long Table and Durational Sewing Bee, 11:30am – 6:00pm at the Ace Hotel New York (20 West 29th Street, Manhattan.) “Umyuangvigkaq is a place to gather ideas where indigenous people, artists, art, methods, and audiences will be celebrated. Every 2 hours we’ll shift a conversation to a new critical topic engaging the intersections of the Indigenous with contemporary American culture.”
In addition to these efforts towards the American Realness 2017 program, I am working to further a commitment on my part, to support the work of Native American / Indigenous / First Nations artists through American Realness moving forward.
I apologize for my lack of attention towards, and advocacy for, Native American / Indigenous / First Nations artists in this field. I am committing here and now to deepening relationship with Native American / Indigenous / First Nations artists. I know it will take time to heal from this misstep, build real trust and forge new relationships. I am ready for the work, will practice patience and be open to criticism and critique along the way. I am grateful for the opportunity to fail, fail publicly, and be held accountable, as it reinforces the consequences of this misstep for me, and the dance and performance communities at large.
With gratitude and respect,
Thomas Benjamin Snapp Pryor
Founder, Curator & Producer