Via The Yale Daily News, October 24, 2022
At the heart of an exhibit dedicated to documenting the erasure of Indigenous communities, an empty pedestal has prompted concern over the Yale University Art Gallery’s own alleged censorship of an Indigenous elder.
“Fazal Sheikh: Exposures” is a new exhibit at the Yale University Art Gallery that premiered Sept. 9 and will be on display until Jan. 8, 2023. Based in desert regions in Israel and the American Southwest, the exhibit explores the extensive consequences of environmental racism on Indigenous communities.
During Sheikh’s Artist Talk on Oct. 6, he told the crowd that this exhibit was almost canceled due to “the heart” of the original exhibit being missing: an offering from a Diné spiritual advisor.
One of the displayed projects, “Exposure,” is set in the American Southwest and looks at extractive mining practices and their consequences on Indigenous communities. Over the course of his time in the Southwest, Sheikh grew close to a Navajo Diné elder named Jonah Yellowman. As one of the “wisdom-keepers” of his tribe, Yellowman is held in the highest esteem, and has been a key mover in protecting 1.35 million acres of sacred lands in Bears Ears, Utah.
But when Yellowman gifted an offering to be housed in the room, the gallery removed it.
“Jonah’s [offering] was very much about protection and beauty and the gesture of a kind of attentiveness towards sacred landscapes,” Sheikh said. “So what on earth would make people feel as though they wanted to assail that, what was the reason?”