This exhibit represents over 100 pieces chosen by roughly 60 community curators from each of the 21 Pueblo tribes in the Southwest. This project originates from the School for Advanced Research with major support by the Vilcek Foundation, and works come from these two organizations.
While general consultation with a few community members to produce an exhibit is becoming more common across the nation, it is still very rare and highly unusual to directly use the voices of the community as a group curatorial expression. Oftentimes, these voices still stand behind the voice of a singular or a few curators that tell a singular story and gloss over the complexities of said community. In this era of social change where the ways in which underrepresented communities, especially Native voices, have been muted are becoming more apparent, including in the museum field, it is increasingly essential to demonstrate and enhance the ways in which multiple and complex community voices can speak without paternalistic oversight in this type of setting.
The Grounded in Clay project aligns with the tenets of the SAR Guidelines for Collaboration (https://www.guidelinesforcollaboration.info). The Guidelines call for a more equitable exchange and partnership between communities of origin and the utilization of museum collections, and have been employed by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Field Museum, and Getty Conservation Institute, among many others. This exhibit utilizes the Guidelines and extends them to the next logical step by acknowledging and embracing the complexities that arise out of community-based work.
In this exhibit, each community curator was given the option to choose one or two works for the exhibit and then asked to write about the pieces. General prompts were offered to assist with the writing process if needed, but curators were given the leeway to write however they wanted in relation to a piece in whatever format they wished. Staff offered editing, oral history recording, or transcription assistance when desired, but the content produced was entirely each curator’s own. Each community participant was compensated both for choosing a piece and for writing an entry for the catalog. From that point, staff worked to organize the chosen pieces into themes depending on the narratives of the curators. While most Pueblo pottery exhibits focus on the historic timelines and Western-derived concepts of fine art, this exhibit focuses on the lesser-known and intangible aspects of pottery that are so intrinsic to the art and enduring cultures of Pueblo people.