Oregon Gallery Removes Indigenous Artist’s Banner Critiquing Police, Spurring Allegations of Censorship 

A poster by artist Demian DinéYazhi’ that reads “DEFUND THE POLICE DECOLONIZE THE STREETS” was chosen for a group show at Chehalem Cultural Center (CCC) in Newberg, Oregon, that is set to run through September 28. But on August 1, the opening day of the exhibition, the artwork was removed from view, a decision that DinéYazhi’ has called censorship in a scathing Instagram post

DinéYazhi’, a trans nonbinary Indigenous artist (Naasht’ézhí Tábąąhá and Tódích’íí’nii clans) who confronts oppressive institutional machinations in their multidisciplinary practice, said the work was removed without their knowledge and without the consent of the curatorial team, composed of Selena Jones, Owen Premore, and Tammy Jo.

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“Each time a crucial conversation resurfaces without proper consultation, support, or reparations,” DinéYazhi’ wrote in their post. “It is unsurprising especially given the amount of resources that are extracted from artists & politically motivated communities by arts spaces in order to escape accountability & restructuring initiatives.” DinéYazhi’ said the decision to remove the work was made by Sean Andries, executive director of CCC.

“[Curator Tracy Schlapp] & myself collaborated on the design of the original letterpress poster, which it references, in the spring of 2020 as a result of the police murder of George Floyd & Black Lives Matter uprisings that followed & effectively empowered the Portland community,” they continued, adding that CCC has “chosen to stand on the side of conservative extremism & fear by censoring the work of an Indigenous Non-Binary Trans Artist.”

A CCC spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.

The work, a painting on canvas in the style of protest banners and delicately hung with the Diné Masani scarf, or “grandmother” scarf in the Navajo language, was included in “The Stone Path,” a group show “celebrating eight Indigenous artists whose artistry expands our understanding of Oregon’s communities, cultures, and histories,” per Art in Oregon, a nonprofit focused on local artists that organized it. The current roster includes Wendy Red Star, Natalie Ball, Vanessa Enos, Ka’ila Farrell-Smith, Lillian Pitt, Marie Watt, and Jeremy Red Star Wolf.

In response to the alleged censorship, DinéYazhi’ removed two additional artwork from the exhibition, leaving behind a Mansani scarf and three letterpress prints from their recent series “extractive industries” that, in their words, “challenges institutional spaces through forceful critique of ‘solidarity statements’, ‘land acknowledgments’, & DEI (Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion) initiatives.”

They have also withdrawn a print from the Crows Shadow Institute of the Arts, NAASHT’ÉZHI TÁBAAHÁ GIRLS (2017), saying, “I ultimately feel it was the correct decision given that many colonial institutions still dictate what is considered safe & appropriate as it relates to Indigenous identity and community empowerment.”

In a statement, Art in Oregon condemned the removal of the work while also acknowledging that CCC staff had faced “aggression and violence from community members unwilling to engage in exploring the critically important complex ideas.”

“The art of DinéYazhi’ daringly pinpoints social just issues with a personalized reframing from their life experience that is educated with patience through empathy,” Art in Oregon said. “The artist’s work requires the viewer to set aside allegiances to controlling systematic constructs in order to reveal the humanity oppressed under its weight.”

Source: artnews.com

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