On June 28, the Museum is hosting a closing celebration for Interwoven Radiance, part of the Center for Contemporary Native Art. Organized by Tlingit artist and weaver Lily Hope, the exhibition features the artistic achievements and vitality of Chilkat and Ravenstail weavers of the Northwest Coast. Native American art educator Ishmael Hope spoke about the importance of an event like this and the role that art museums play in supporting Native American art and artists.
How are you connected to the Interwoven Radiance exhibition?
My most important contribution is as a supportive husband. My wife, Lily Hope, is an accomplished weaver, and now a curator of a special show in a major art museum. I couldn’t be prouder. Secondarily, I am helping with the ceremony for the closing of the exhibit, as I helped when Lily handed her commissioned robe, Lineage, to Mike Murawski and the Portland Art Museum at a ceremony in Juneau, Alaska, in 2017; and when the exhibit opened. It is Lily’s interest to do these ceremonies, and I support her however I can.
What do you think about the Museum’s Center for Contemporary Native Art?
There are many brilliant pieces of contemporary Native art at the museum. They are stunning. It is helpful to have this new paradigm shift, though we are still a bit in the old one. The Tlingit community, through the tribe, has had longstanding claims for sacred cultural objects at the Museum through the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. It is so healthy to commission and purchase works from living Native American artists. I am grateful to see the museum moving in the right direction. It is also good to see the museum honor and raise up the artists of the area such as Greg Archuleta, Greg A. Robinson, and Sara Siestreem in the Thlatwa Thlatwa: Indigenous Currents exhibit.
How do you think that art museums can play a partnership role with Native American tribes?
I think that exhibits such as Interwoven Radiance, in which the skills, desires, and knowledge of the Native peoples are fully incorporated, and in which a Native woman artist is curating, is an outstanding example of a partnership with a Native tribe. The more the better! And the NAGPRA claims need to be settled. To see the sacred objects return would bring great healing to the community. I believe the museum is on a good path. I am thrilled, for example, with how the museum honors the work of the late Clarissa Rizal, my mother-in-law, and the late Teri Rofkar, two beautiful master weavers.
What is the importance of a closing celebration like the one planned for June 28 that includes dancing a robe to rest?
It is to bring Laxhéitl, a sense of wellbeing and good fortune, to the events. Major artworks are on display. It is an important event. And to have the robes danced in before they return to the museum cases. Many of us believe that these objects are alive, especially if they’ve been commissioned as a sacred object, which is what the oldest weavings in the museum’s care are. This is not a full-on Khu.éex’, or potlatch. But it is a way to commemorate the occasion, in our way. I especially see this as a way to support Lily and the weavers, to help them with closure after a super neat exhibit. We are grateful for the tribes who own the land for opening up their home to us. Members of the Chinook tribe will share words of welcome, which we deeply appreciate.