“Unsettling the Archive” exhibition examines Tufts’ impact on the surrounding landscape


How do institutions like Tufts come into being?

Tufts University Art Galleries’ exposure “Destabilizing the archives: exploring the relationship of tufts with the earth” explains how the creation and continued expansion of Tufts impacted the environments and communities in and around its campuses.

Before the design of the exhibition, Tufts University Art Galleries was working on the formulation of a land recognition to recognize that the gallery resides on the ancestral lands of the Massachusetts people and in the territories of the Nipmuc and Wamponoag tribes. However, Natalie Gearin (LA’21), former member of Tufts University Art Galleries, noted that she and the gallery wished to explore the topic of land recognition further.

“When you recognize that Tufts is on native land, it raises a lot of questions about the history of that land. … Who owned the land? How has the landscape changed over time? How did Tufts come into this? ” Gearin said.

This exhibition involves a dialogue between the Tufts archives and contemporary perspectives, an idea that Gearin developed by chatting with people who were also involved in land recognition discussions. To find pieces exploring the history of Tufts, Gearin worked with Pam Hopkins, Public Services and Outreach Archivist for Tufts Digital Collections and Archives.

Hopkins described the research process through such a large archival collection.

“I am launching a large network to bring together so many different resources, and [to] provide context for these resources, as I can to really allow the researcher to sit down and start reviewing [the archives] … And it becomes this iterative process, based on, “ Hopkins said.

Dan Santamaria, Director of Collections and Digital Archives, explained the ability of the Tufts Archives to explore how the university came about.

“The University Archives are… a very rich resource for those who want to understand Tufts’ past. There is a ton of interest … in the land that Tufts was built on, how Tufts came to own that land, and the building from there, how the landscape changed and how the university altered the landscape , and there are just a ton of great resources, ” Santamaria said.

Throughout the exhibition, archival research is juxtaposed with works of art from various mediums, as a means of building almost a new archive.

When I thought of intervening in an archive, I thought of how can this show create a new archive, where we have videos, performances, there are photographs, there are paintings, there is a fresco on a building. This exhibition, in itself, can in a way intervene in the existing archives… it can question what we think an archive can be ”, Gearin said.

The pieces included in the exhibition cross not only mediums, but also time, starting with an advertisement from 1856 intended for “[commence] a village ‘around Tufts. Adjoining this advertisement is a portrait of Sachem of Mistick, a female tribal chief of Massachusetts from the late 16th and early 17th centuries, created by artist Lilly E. Manycolors. Further down the wall are artifacts and images of Royall House, an estate near the Tufts campus on which more than 60 people were enslaved from 1739 to 1779.

There are also works of more recent history. Towards the end of the exhibition are images illustrating the expansion of the New England Medical Center, of which Tufts was a part. This expansion began in 1970, and over the course of 15 years NEMC acquired numerous buildings in the Chinatown and South Cove neighborhoods, a move that many Boston Chinatown residents were ardently opposed to.

Gearin explained that the inclusion of images from this expansion was meant to emphasize that the university’s impact on the surrounding landscape is continuous.

“I wanted to make sure that [the exhibit] was not steeped in the past and, framing that idea, you might think of Tufts’ presence in the field as something that is constantly changing, and really, it is expanding ”, Gearin said.

The exhibition will also soon include undergraduate student projects in Ninian stein’s synthesis course on the environment.

According to Stein, who is a lecturer in environmental studies and anthropology, Synthesis projects are intended to reflect on the concept of institutional change – how people influence and communicate, and how people change institutions from within and without.

Communication is a key area of ​​Stein’s research and teaching. Every year, she bring students from her “Environment, communication and culture ” class at galleries, so that they can explore art as a medium of communication for difficult subjects.

Stein described the power of works of art to raise awareness of certain issues.

“I think art is a very powerful way to communicate around difficult topics… and it’s a wonderful way to think about different ways of receiving and communicating messages.” Stein said.

An element of the exhibition is located outside the gallery. It is Wapka, ‘a mural that was created by Erin Genia, artist and lecturer at sculpture and performance department of the SMFA.

Bright and beautiful, ‘Wapka’ is an image of the Mystic River covered with images of the Anpa O Wicahnpi – Morningstar – which is the imagery of the Dakota. Genia is a Dakota person, member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate / Odawa, and it includes the Morningstar symbol in many of its coins. Genia used this symbol in “Wapka” to present an indigenous perspective on the river.. This fresco was commissioned by Abigail Satinsky, curator of art at the SMFA.

The Mystic River has strong ties to the history of Tufts. According to Hopkins, Charles Tufts was a descendant of Peter Tufts, who made money in the brick trade, an industry that extracted clay from the river and owned extensive farmland in the area.

Genia hopes that “Wapka” and the other pieces included in the exhibit will inspire people to better understand various Indigenous philosophies and to think more critically about the history of different lands.

I just wanted to share that indigenous peoples’ philosophies are really important, ”said Genia. “I think people need to better understand Aboriginal people… and also the history of the place. The story that [children] are taught on this place is a whitewashed story that doesn’t give enough the facts.

Gearin noted that she wanted visitors to understand that the process of forming an institution like Tufts is not fluid, and on the contrary leaves a complex and lasting impact on the landscape.

“I guess the thesis of the exhibit is that Tufts and its campuses are not that organic entity that just appeared. [Tufts] didn’t just naturally merge over time, ”Gearin said. “I would also like very much that people leave with the idea that the idea of ​​establishment, the idea of ​​presence and expansion on the landscape, is in progress, it can take many forms and [it] impacts all types of people in multiple ways.

About Margaret L. Portillo

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