About this Project

Recent shifts in legal, political, and ethical demands on natural history museums have compelled them to open their institutional logics to interventions informed by indigenous peoples’ self-understanding—an understanding that makes specific interpretive claims about the meaning of given cultural phenomena, ontological claims expressed by their religious commitments, and even aesthetic and epistemological claims about the contributions contemporary Native American artists might make to the articulation of a long-standing historical tradition. Our interest, in short, is to understand how these interventions are playing out in the everyday work of the Field Museum and its efforts to engage, educate, and encourage the interest of an increasingly diverse public, Native and otherwise.

We endeavor to undertake this project in collaboration with the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society, the Field Museum, and a growing pool of indigenous leaders, museum specialists, advocates, and artists in two ways. First, through on-the-ground participant observation of Field Museum staff as they plan, produce, and execute a major exhibition already under way in Hall 8, the North America Collection. And second, by staging conversations among invited Native American artists and advocates, Field staff, and scholars with a view to exploring how the future possibilities of ethnographic museums can be addressed through the specific efforts being undertaken by the Field in its renovation project. From questions concerning the status of indigenous cultural property rights, material and intellectual, to the enduring problems of reification and the marginalization of Native Americans, ethnographic collections like those at the Field have long been the focal point of debates about the relationship between scientific ethics, religious commitments, and aesthetics.

With its plans for renovation and its willingness to be the site and subject of this inquiry, the Field Museum stands at the forward edge of these questions and how their answers might offer lessons for the future of natural history. 


Alaka Wali on “Beyond Bollywood”

August 16, 2017

The new "Beyond Bollywood" exhibition at the Field Museum is "the first exhibit of its kind to really concentrate on Indo-Americans, as opposed to Indians in America," Visiting Fellow Alaka Wali tells the Chicago Tribune.

Anna Tsouhlarakis on the Solar Eclipse

August 9, 2017

With "Edges of Her," a new piece on display at the Center for the Arts in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, artist Anna Tsouhlarakis prompts viewers to question their assumptions about the upcoming solar eclipse. 

Tattooing as Global Practice: Alaka Wali on the History and Aesthetics of Tattoo Culture

November 16, 2016

Neubauer Collegium Visiting Fellow Alaka Wali, Curator of North American Anthropology at the Field Museum of Natural History, recently sat down with VICE magazine to discuss a new exhibit on the history of tattoos. "Usually our exhibits focus on one region or one culture," she explains, "but this exhibit pays explicit attention to tattoo practices in the United States and Europe—'the West'—and how these were influenced by tattoo artists and aesthetics in non-Western cultures." 

Project Updates

Exploring Boundaries and Contexts in Contemporary American Indian Art and Law
Tuesday, October 13

Neubauer Collegium

This first event of the project examined the relationship between formal artistic principles, symbolic meanings, social norms and the law as they relate to First Nations artwork in a contemporary context. Artists gave presentations on their work to ground the preliminary gathering of Open Fields; an ongoing Neubauer Collegium project organized by Justin Richland, Jessica Stockholder, and Alaka Wali. Read more about the first event >>


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