Samek Exhibit: What You Think You Know

Kelsey Werkheiser, News Co-Editor

Bucknell’s downtown Samek Art Gallery is presenting the exhibit “What You Think You Know” from March 14 to June 4.

The title of the exhibit is a nod to stereotypes surrounding Native Americans, and the art within the exhibit works to dismantle them. The exhibit was curated by Museum Fellow Sarah N. Hixson, MA and Sierra Nizhonii Pete (Diné). It contains art from Cara Romero, Cannupa Hanska Luger and the 1491s. All artists’ plaques also contain their Native names. 

Above the gallery’s permanent fireplace is the title of the exhibit and a brief commentary on why this exhibition was curated and its relevance. It explains the recognizable names of Pennsylvania locations–Shamokin, Susquehanna, Pocono, etc.–come from the Algonquin language family spoken by Indigenous people. These names belonged to Native tribes and still do to this day. 

The wall reads: “To reduce a culture or group of people to consumable and profitable products is commodification; obsessing over singular elements of someone’s identity transforms fascination into fetishization.”

To the left of the wall, Luger’s art is displayed. Luger was born on the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota and is a graduate of the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe. A glass display case contains “artifacts”: ceramic pieces, some made to look like broken bottles. Above the display case is the word “artifact” in dictionary entry style. In contrast with their definitions, the words are used in example sentences that act as commentary on Indigenous artifacts being kept in institutional collections.

One line reads: “Institutional control of narrative has produced several technical artifacts in relation to Indigenous people.” Luger’s work continues to the left, with brightly-painted arrows and more commentary on the Indigenous property that has been deemed as artifacts. 

On the adjacent wall hangs Romero’s works from her “First American Girl” series. Two large, bright, archival pigment photographs show two native women, one entitled Julia and the other Naomi. Each stands within a black-and-white patterned outline, imitating a doll in a box. They are dressed in traditionally Native clothing, and surrounded by culturally important “accessories.”

Romero’s pieces work to combat the commercialized image of Indigenous women, such as through the marketable dolls that these images imitate. 

Perpendicular to her exhibit is the standard land acknowledgement that Bucknell uses in academic contexts and at events.

In a room towards the back of the exhibit, a television plays works from the 1491s, a sketch comedy troupe composed of five Native men: Migzi Pensoneau, Bobby Wilson, Dallas Goldtooth, Ryan RedCorn and Sterlin Harjo. The group began in 2009 on YouTube, but after going viral have grown to performing sold-out shows, giving TEDxTalks and being a part of major projects such as FX’s Reservation Dogs. Their humor and satire helps to combat Native stereotypes in a more lighthearted way, but also in a way that is more digestible and accessible to the general public.

“I really appreciated Chase Gregory bringing our class to the Samek downtown on Wednesday afternoon, otherwise I would not have gotten a chance to see such a wonderful exhibit,” Isabelle Levesque-Du Bose ’23 said. “Overall, I really enjoyed the exhibition at the Samek downtown and encourage everybody to learn more about indigenous communities, not only near us, but across the country.”

The exhibit will be open until June 4 during the gallery’s operating hours of 12–5 p.m. on Tuesdays through Sundays. It is free and open to the public, located on Market St. across from the Campus Theatre.

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