CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: Native American artists assert independence via Chicago gallery as museums review outdated collections

Photo: Center for Native Futures co-founder Monica Rickert-Bolter by Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Monica Rickert Bolter by Tyler Pasciak La Riviere for Sun Time

Community News
By Erica Thompson for Chicago Sun-Times

Read Time 2 minutes
February 13, 2024

This story was originally published on February 11, 2024 in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Several years ago, painter and ledger artist Chris Pappan created a groundbreaking exhibition in the outdated, problematic Native North America Hall at the Field Museum.

Pappan replicated his work on decals, which he placed directly on the glass of the old exhibit cases of mannequins wearing headdresses and moccasins.

Visitors were forced to confront contemporary Native American artwork before they could engage the items of the past. Still, not everyone received the message.

“I heard a woman say to a child, ‘Everyone in these cases is dead,’ right in front of me,” said Pappan, 52, of Albany Park, who is of Kanza, Osage and Lakota heritage. “I’m not the only one who’s had that experience here. There are other Native artists that have been told to their faces, ‘I thought all Natives were extinct.’ ”

Today, Pappan is still working to provide that visibility in Chicago, which boasts a population of more than 215,000 Native Americans representing over 140 tribal nations, according to the American Indian Center. In September, he and his wife, Debra Yepa-Pappan, along with other Native American artists Monica Rickert-Bolter and Andrea Carlson, opened the Center for Native Futures at 56 W. Adams St. in the Marquette Building in the Loop.

Citing limited opportunities for artists and problematic treatment of Native American art and items at Chicago museums, the founders have created one of the only Native American-owned contemporary art galleries in Chicago. The space embraces the concept of Indigenous futurism, which they say paints a more complete picture of Native Americans, by not only considering their past, but placing them in the present and future.

As they gradually build a hub for both local and national Native American artists, Chicago area institutions such as the Field Museum, Mitchell Museum of the American Indian and others are attempting to take corrective actions — returning sacred Native American items and showcasing contemporary Native American works in partnership with Native American communities.