Andrew Dunehoo stands in front of a Kente cloth holding an art piece by Roger Boer with a submission by Jim Yellow Hawk resting on the chair next to him at Crazy Horse Memorial. Photo by Richie Richards
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Native Sun News Today: Museum explores Native and African tricksters

Crazy Horse Memorial honors Black History Month with Iktomi art exhibit

By Richie Richards
Native Sun News Today Correspondent

CUSTER – A new temporary art exhibit at Crazy Horse Memorial celebrates the similarities between West African and Lakota cultures and their belief in the spider as a trickster.

Lakota and African art will be on display at Crazy Horse Memorial from February 1 through March 31, 2018, for the two-month art exhibit titled “Anansi and Iktomi” which will be in the main gallery of the southern Black Hills museum. This art exhibit will give artistic interpretations of the two “anti-heroes” told through oral history and origin myths.

Museum Curator and Director of Cultural Affairs for Crazy Horse Memorial Andrew Dunehoo, 36, joined the staff of Crazy Horse in June of 2017 and has hit the ground running in developing quality exhibits for the museum and art gallery. This has been accomplished through his collaborations with artists, historians, and culture-bearers of in the region.

“It’s been incredible. The community has been really kind. I moved my whole family here from Colorado,” said the curator. “Custer has been really nice, but also the connection to the Native community. I have met some of the most amazing individuals I have ever met in my entire career.”

Having come to the region with basic, foundational information taught in the American educational system, Dunehoo has taken it upon himself to work closely with those directly related to the subjects of Crazy Horse’s exhibits. One of his first projects was the development of an exhibit on Chief Red Cloud (Oglala Lakota).

“I had something of a rudimentary knowledge of Red Cloud, but to learn more of the specific strategies he used was pretty incredible and what was it about his strategy that was so genius; that was so game-changing,” Dunehoo said of his research which included interviews with descendants of Red Cloud.

In working with historical events, it can be a challenge for any curator; especially for non-Natives in the field. But Dunehoo pulled it off, successfully. “2017 was the 151st anniversary of the Fetterman Fight. We wanted to not necessarily re-tell that story, but highlight that part of history and show who Red Cloud was as a strategist,” Dunehoo said.

As part of Red Cloud’s exhibit, Dunehoo worked directly with the descendants of this signer of the Fort Laramie Treaty. “We actually worked with his Great-Great-Granddaughter, Lula. Being able to connect with that family and how he was remembered in the family really helped to flesh the whole scene out,” he said.

“It’s fascinating because you get to learn about those stories and you sort of become an expert in them in a short amount of time on a subject matter that you may know very little about. It’s an incredible journey,” he said of his work on the Red Cloud exhibit which went up in summer 2017.

The temporary exhibit the curator is busily working to finish for the February 1 opening tells part of the story of Anansi and Iktomi. These tricksters of West African and Northern Plains folklore play a vital role in the communities where these stories are told. Black History Month was chosen to bring these two together in one exhibit.

“The exhibit is called “Anansi and Iktomi” and we’re doing this in conjunction with Black History Month in February. Showing the similarities and differences between these two prominent spider tricksters,’ said Dunehoo. “Anansi being the West African character and Iktomi being from here on the plains.”

According to the new curator at Crazy Horse, the intentions behind the exhibit is to show the allusion of similarity between the two cultural anti-heroes, but through these distinctions, he hopes to show the similarities of storytelling across continents.

“It’s a little step outside of our mission, but it shows how those personages have an effect on culture. They have a wide range of effects on culture history,” he said of Crazy Horse’s vision of keeping their museum a mostly-regional template. “We as an institution have not done many temporary exhibits. When I came in, one of the things I recognized is we don’t have the capacity to show everything that’s in our collection,” he said of the limited gallery space. This limited space puts restrictions on what can be displayed with the vast collections held in the vaults on and off museum sites.

In choosing Black History Month, collections staff along with Dunehoo, wanted to use an age old model of celebrating holidays or special events with items available. “You always want to tie the exhibits to the mission of the museums. With this particular idea, could we use authentic Native voice, so that we know it’s through the eyes of an artist, or a culture-bearer and can we serve as a platform for that story?” he said.

“James Bland, our Collections Manager, came up with the idea. James said, ‘There are some similarities between Anansi and the stories of Iktomi’,” Dunehoo said of the origination of the trickster art exhibit. “It’s interesting because Iktomi’s one of those characters you don’t talk a lot about. One of our artists said don’t speak of the devil because he will show up.”

Trickster stories and personages are told throughout the North American continent and the world. Often born from tribal communities or villages, these stories help in teaching, learning, and controlling societies.

“One thing we thought would be neat is to show where these legends of Iktomi were and Anansi told? What were the lessons? How did those teach and influence life?” said the Crazy Horse curator. “There are similarities there in the trickster stories but then the similarities between the two were thinly veiled; other than they were both spiders.”

Part of the research journey for Dunehoo was learning that Anansi came to this continent from West Africa during the slave trade era. Dunehoo finds it fascinating to know these two stories from distant cultures came to represent the same figure in their distinct cultures.

“It was kind of neat to see the kind of influence they had and where those stories caught life and eventually how Anansi came here with the slave trade,” he said. “And how that story sort of came to meet with the story of Iktomi.”

“One of the things we’re going to be showing is the physical examples of not really the origin story, but rather the origin of how something was created,” Dunehoo said. “There are two pieces that are going to be juxtaposed against each other; the story of Iktomi and the rise of how a dream catcher came to be and another story of how the Kente cloth came to be and how the physical manifestations came to be from those stories.”

In explaining the Kente cloth to be displayed at Crazy Horse, Dunehoo said, “This was something that was invented by Anansi; he wove this together as the story goes. So when you see the patterns and the way those patterns appear in culture, in clothing, in art, that is said to be Anansi’s doing. He’s a spider weaving back and forth.” The spider appears to be the connector to stories, according to Dunehoo.

The brightly colored patterns on the Kente cloth are the adaptation of culture to modern times and reflect the globalization of tribal groups. The Lakota are not untouched by this phenomenon, as well.

“When it comes to these kinds of exhibits, we want to add a variety and a message. With every artist and their medium, they have their particular style of storytelling. We want to have an inclusion element and expand upon that,” he said of the artists chosen for Anansi and Iktomi.

“We worked with a number of these artists before. Roger Broer is on our acquisitions committee and is a major voice in terms of the museum collections inventory and research; as well as collections development. He’s one of those Lakota voices that we’ve gone to, to provide and search out authenticity, identification, and research and get a grasp of what it is we have,” Dunehoo said.

According to Dunehoo, Broer’s work is a unique style in art – monotype. Of his colleague Broer, Dunehoo said he has a great spirit and a perfect person for a trickster exhibit. “He actually has a tattoo of Iktomi on his chest. He has this fun attitude and introduced us to this idea of, do we speak of Iktomi? Or do we not speak of Iktomi? But he has this fearlessness,” said Dunehoo.

“Jim Yellow Hawk’s work kind of likens Iktomi to the Spiderman character, which takes this very fun and vibrant image of Iktomi as the anti-hero. He’s between the lines of good guy and bad guy. He’s teaching this story and he’s producing this image of ‘Here I come to save the day perhaps’, said the curator.

During his discussion of the artists used for “Anansi and Iktomi” Dunehoo recognizes that regional artists have a special way about themselves. In many ways, contemporary artists working on Indian art today tell their stories which get viewers to question their own lives, inquire about the unknown, and the artists force art audiences of today to keep ancestral teachings a part of their daily lives; much like tricksters.


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