Artist Sam Durant. Photo by Aaron Lavinsky for the Star Tribune.
The dismantling of "Scaffold" at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden may have happened six months ago, but it's not forgotten.
Last week at the College Art Association conference in Los Angeles, artist Sam Durant spoke on a panel formed by the National Coalition Against Censorship, reflecting on the experience.
Rather than explain how he transferred intellectual property rights of "Scaffold" to the Dakota nation after protests broke out over his sculpture, Durant raised a deeper issue: The United States, he said, has not come to a true moral reckoning over its history of colonialism, violence, genocide, lynching and slavery.
According to reports from the Art Newspaper by Jori Finkel, Durant said that the U.S. should practice a sort of “truth and reconciliation” process as was done in Germany for the Holocaust, South Africa for apartheid and Rwanda for the genocide there in 1994. In German, the word is “vergangenheitsbwältigung.”
Durant said he believes this lack of a national moral reckoning is why “grievances keep coming up against white artists who deal with racial issues.”
“I think that social and political problems and issues are being superimposed onto art and debates about art,” Art Newspaper quoted him as saying. “In other words, art is being asked to perform things maybe it shouldn’t perform, which is actual political and social action. We need a truth and reconciliation process, and we need real remedies. We can’t just be sorry.”
"We don’t even know whose land we’re standing on," he said at one point. An audience member shouted, "We’re on Tongva land," referring to the tribe who once inhabited the Los Angeles basin.
Durant’s intention with "Scaffold," a wood-and-steel structure that combined the designs of eight gallows used in U.S.-sanctioned executions, was to discuss histories of capital punishment in America. But it struck a painful chord locally, especially for Native communities, because it incorporated the gallows used to hang 38 Dakota warriors after the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. Selected by former Walker Art Center Executive Director Olga Viso, "Scaffold" was supposed to be a part of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden’s grand re-opening last spring.
What Durant thinks should be a national conversation has started happening in the Twin Cities. Last month, state officials approved a Minneapolis Park Board decision to change the name of Lake Calhoun to Bde Maka Ska, its original Dakota name (meaning White Earth Lake). After white settlers came to Minnesota in the 1820s, the lake had been named for South Carolina politician John C. Calhoun, a prominent supporter of slavery.