David Lewis

Whose land is it, anyway?

The revised exhibition "This IS Kalapuyan Land" at the newly renamed Five Oaks Museum makes an emphatic case for a reclaimed history

In 1985, the performance artist James Luna lay down in a display case at the Museum of Modern Man in San Diego, California. By putting himself on display and labeling his own scars and body parts as a Luiseno Indian, Luna sought to call attention to museum practices that treat Native American cultures as though they are things of the past: dead and gone and now isolated in a case.  Luna wanted viewers to wrestle with his presence, very obviously in the present. 

The exhibition This IS Kalapuyan Land at the newly renamed Five Oaks Museum on the campus of Portland Community College Rock Creek – until today it had been known as the Washington County Museum – takes a similar point of departure to Luna’s work. I would love to say that the point of departure had moved significantly forward in the 34 years that elapsed between Luna’s groundbreaking performance and the current exhibition, but this sort of change is often slow. 

Curator Stephanie Littlebird Fogel altered components of the museum’s previous installation, This Kalapuya Land, and added work by seventeen contemporary Native artists. The installation deftly raises pressing questions about narrative bias in addition to featuring contemporary work by Indigenous artists. It is a promising start for the Five Oaks guest curator program and shows the care and thought that the co-directors, Molly Alloy and Nathanael Andreini, have put into the museum’s direction. It establishes Five Oaks Museum as a forward-thinking institution worthy of consideration. 

Installation view of This Is Kalapuyan Land. Photo : Mario Gallucci / courtesy Five Oaks Museum

Alloy and Andreini were announced as the museum’s co-directors in May of 2019 and This IS Kalapuyan Land is the first exhibition of their tenure. Our Vision 2020 interview with the pair, which will be published Friday, gives a good sense of the careful consideration they gave to the museum’s guest curator program and the future of the museum. For a detailed look at the museum’s changes, see Brett Campbell’s ArtsWatch story Five Oaks: What’s in a name? Here, the focus is the exhibition.