This academic year, all UO first-year students received Louise Erdrich’s novel The Round House; faculty are using the book in courses across campus for undergraduate and graduate students. Last year, more than sixty classes used the museum’s first exhibition organized specifically to support the “Common Reading.” Based on the success of Between the World and Me: African American Artists Respond to Ta-Nehisi Coates, the JSMA plans to present a “Common Seeing” exhibition each year — where students can expand their dialogues and investigations in front of works of art.
This year’s companion exhibition, Conversations in the Round House: Roots, Roads and Remembrances, features twenty-four contemporary works by twelve artists who affirm their ties to Native culture: Rick Bartow, Ka’ila Farrell-Smith, Joe Feddersen, James Lavadour, Tanis Matthews, P.Y. Minthorn, Lillian Pitt, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Wendy Red Star, Gail Tremblay, Marie Watt, and Elizabeth Woody. The majority of the objects come from the JSMA’s collection, and some works, like James Lavadour’s painting Torch, are recent acquisitions on exhibition for the first time here. We are also grateful to the artists and private collectors who lent their important works.
The exhibition addresses central concerns in Erdrich’s novel—community and identity, landscape and a sense of place, and history, memory and storytelling, as well as violence to women, sovereignty, justice, and racism. The novel begins with the rape of the narrator’s mother, which starts the adolescent son on a journey that makes him question social mores, sacred rituals, and his place on the reservation and in the larger world. Likewise, the works in the exhibition explore the diverse ways artists approach cultural heritage, freedom and colonization, and the uneasy coexistence of natural, material and spiritual worlds.
Conversations in the Round House: Roots, Roads and Ritual is co-curated by Danielle Knapp, McCosh Associate Curator, and Cheryl Hartup, Associate Curator of Academic Programs and Latin American Art with Beth Robinson-Hartpence (Lenni Lenape), JSMA art preparator-conservator, who advised on the project.