The right to voice—both one’s own as well as the voices of others—has long been a problem in the Western world. While previously, the voices of minority groups were ignored if not entirely denied, the problem now seems to be who has the right to represent the voices of certain groups. The problem to right to voice seems to be especially problematic with regards to modern Native American groups.
In the past, the Native voice was entirely disregarded, as the history of the U.S. and Native groups is littered with broken treaties, stolen land, and genocide. The problem of Native voice now, however, seems to be a conflict of who has the right to represent the needs and desires of Native groups. While many Native groups are not only willing but also desirous of the ability to speak for themselves, they seem to be continually hushed. While the art world is particularly sensitive to the needs of these artists, their progression in the arena still highlights core problems.
Undoubtedly, Native American artists have come a long way from the heyday of the Santa Fe Indian School, where their needs and abilities as artists were dictated by the white director of the school. Yet, unfortunately, it seems that Native groups still have some way to go before they obtain sovereignty in the art world. This problem arises at the MAD Museum’s Changing Hands exhibit. While the exhibit undoubtedly progresses the field of Native art and is considerate the needs of Native American artists, it still works to illuminate how much work needs to be done.
The three part exhibit aimed to be progressive in its showing of modern Native Art. Surely, it is more progressive than most. It allows the artists to present their works as they choose, and to give their own artists' statements. While the exhibit tends to discourage tribal affiliation, it accommodates artists that express tribal affiliation as particularly important. Yet, there is some irony in the curators of the ‘progressive’ exhibit, advocating Native sovereignty and presence, being a middle-aged white man and woman. While the curators seemed particularly adapt and sensitive to the rights and needs of their artists, it still begs the question of why Native Americans aren't running their own exhibits, or why they aren't fully integrated into the art world without being isolated as Native artists. It seemed to indicate the notion that, yes, Native Americans still exist, and can adapt to the times, but their voice is better represented by us. It is surely a marvel that the charge for Native groups to transcend stereotypes and other boundaries is led by non-Natives. The sub-title of one of the exhibit’s events is particularly striking: “We Are Still Here”. Well certainly, Native groups are. But why is it Ellen Taubman and David McFadden declaring it?