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Body language: Indigenous performance artists addressing the institution

Earwood, Jacinda
Indigenous performance artists emphasize personhood, their individual experience under the institutional gaze, and provide space to negotiate trauma that breaks up the generalizing conversation surrounding colonization and museum spaces. I explore the function of the body in Indigenous performance art that critiques institutional structures using the language of decolonization. More specifically, I examine how the introduction of Indigenous bodies expands the existing framework of institutional critique to include ownership of institutional space. In researching these artists and the historical moments they are responding to, I am interested in how the individual’s experience, provided to the museum through performance, shifts the conversation towards the expression of history through story to validate those narratives over anthropological ones typically seen in museums. Often there is a lasting rhetoric that places the materiality and the colonial history of the object before the personhood it represents in institutions' exhibitions on Indigenous works. The individual experience of the artists I cover, as expressed through performance art, brings attention to the unaddressed intergenerational trauma held in the cultural patrimony displayed in museums. I highlight these artists in this paper to further research on the compounding effects of Indigenous identity being reduced to objects whose acquisitions are poorly documented, if at all, as well as the research looking at the responses to harmful effects on the individual’s lived experience.