Exhibit Questions American History
Jennifer Gabrielle ’06
do you enter history?” poses the sign by an entrance
to a student exhibition in Campus Center Room 108, the student
gallery. The sign offers three choices: Europe, Africa, or
Indigenous. Outside, the exhibit walls are covered in black
cloth, shrouded, perhaps, like the traditional history of
Inside, the truth
is titled “Almanac of the Dead” after a novel
by the same title by Leslie Marmon Silko that challenges typical
textbook perspectives on American history. In her book, Silko
discusses the oppression of indigenous Americans and their
uprisings, known as 500 Years of Resistance. The student exhibition
is the result of an Interterm course on the novel taught by
Ginetta Candelario, assistant professor of sociology and Latin
American and Latino/a studies.
After first reading
the Silko novel during a graduate seminar, Candelario was
moved by its depiction of the 500-year history of peoples
of the Americas, she says. “It’s an epic, apocalyptic
novel,” she says, in which the past becomes very much
alive. The book’s title is an oxymoron implying a future
foretold by the past. The voice given to this usually silent
story stayed with Candelario over the years.
Finally this January,
she was able to share and explore that voice with seven Smith
students in her seminar. Their assignment at the end of the
course was to create an exhibit, in an attempt to extend the
effect of that voice to others.
of the Dead” exhibit features four walls of history:
Indigenous, Africa, Europe, and The Americas, each of which
provides accounts of the respective peoples’ arrival,
settlement, and resettlements in the Americas. It comprises
graphics, such as a reward poster for a runaway slave, a photograph
of a march for the American Indian Movement, and battle scenes
as explorers and settlers clash violently with indigenous
populations. The class also created its own Native American
artifacts, such as the Great Stone Snake, an important symbol
in Silko’s novel.
Monica Wang ’09,
a participant in the exhibition, says she learned even more
about Native American culture in the process of creating the
exhibit. “We’re not art majors,” she laughs,
but after collaborating on ideas, the students “came
away with a great deal of respect” for the people to
whom the book gives voice. The main difficulty, she says,
was simplifying nearly 800 pages into a feasible project that
would maintain the dignity of the novel.
The primary objective
of Candelario’s assignment was to make the book accessible
to others on campus, and to inspire “the impulse to
explore further,” she says.
The class, through
its exhibition, has taken the lead in that exploration. For
example, it questions the glaring omission from Silko's novel
of the obvious impact of Asian peoples on American history.
“So come on Ms. Silko, where is Asia?” demands
a sign in the exhibition entryway.
With this question,
the voice of one J-term class challenges history even further,
exactly the kind of curiosity Candelario sought to inspire.
of the Dead” exhibition will be on display through February