“Race and Revolution”

Building 8A, Nolan Park
Governors Island
August 3, 2016–September 25, 2016

Nicholas Galanin, You Are On Indisneyian Land, 2016, photograph, red-cedarwood shavings, dimensions variable.

The paint on the ceiling peels while fuzzy balls of mold grow in rows on the floor of a nineteenth-century Army building on Governors Island, Manhattan. In this makeshift gallery, on land that was once a Lenape fishing camp, nine artists respond to this country’s legacy of colonialism and violence. Nona Faustine’s topless photographic self-portrait, Not Gone with the Wind, 2015, taken at the historic eighteenth-century Prospect Park, Brooklyn, home of the Lefferts family—wealthy Dutch settlers and slave owners—sets the tone. Faustine, a black artist, born and raised in Brooklyn, gazes directly at the viewer as the Lefferts house looms behind her. She reminds us that American racism is very much alive and well, and its administrative enactment lives on today in museums, national parks, and galleries.

In Nicholas Galanin’s You Are On Indisneyian Land, 2016, red-cedarwood shavings are gathered around a fireplace underneath a large glossy tourist photograph tacked to a wall. In the picture, a white-looking family takes a snapshot of their children peeking out from either side of a totem pole carved by a nonindigenous artist, at Sitka National Historical Park in southeast Alaska. Galanin, a Tlingit/Unangax̂ transcustomary artist, raises questions about cultural tourism and appropriation in the popular imagination. It is as if the shavings, remnants of a Tlingit dugout canoe Galanin is carving with his brother, were the fragments of the ersatz totem pole in the photo—a symbolic dismantling. The artists here take on familiar historical scenes without making them easy and turn a decaying white fantasy landscape into kindling.

Katherine Brewer Ball