Given the diversity present on the University of Illinois campus, encountering many different cultures is not uncommon. Some cultures are more visible than others, but a current exhibition at the University YMCA gives students and community members the opportunity to learn more about a seldom-discussed cultural group: African-Native Americans.
The exhibition, titled “IndiVisible: African-Native American Lives in the Americas,” held its opening reception on April 13 and will run through May 14. It will also return to the Y’s Murphy Gallery from June to August.
Ann Rasmus, an associate director at the University YMCA, said that “IndiVisible” is different from other art shows that the Y has done because it comes from a big institution, the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service.
She said the most powerful aspect of the “IndiVisible” exhibition is that it is “bringing a lesser-known aspect of race relations into the important conversation of race and ethnicity on campus.”
According to Rasmus, “IndiVisible” connects to the mission of the Y. The pieces of the mission include social justice, environmental action, faith in action and cross-cultural understanding.
The exhibition itself does not contain original art; it is made up of 20 panels that narrate the lives of African-Native Americans through historical photographs, letters and thoughtful text. Rasmus said that the “gallery space is given latitude to make decisions” on how to set up the panels.
Rasmus decided to feature a long-time community artist with the exhibition. There are two pieces by Durango Mendoza on display at the Murphy Gallery along with the panels.
Rasmus said that Jamie Singson, the director of the Native American House on campus, approached her at the opening reception of another exhibition in the fall with the idea to show “IndiVisible” at the University YMCA.
Singson said in an email that the Bruce D. Nesbitt African-American Cultural Center and the Native American House collaborated in 2011 to take students on a field trip to visit the “IndiVisible” exhibition at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art in Indianapolis.
“The success of the field trip in 2011 caused for both of our centers to consider exploring having the exhibit on campus when we discovered that the ‘IndiVisible’ panels were available as a traveling exhibit from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian,” Singson said.
The Bruce D. Nesbitt African-American Cultural Center, the Committee on Race and Ethnicity and the Native American House sponsored the exhibit, allowing it to be brought to the University YMCA. Additionally, the exhibit received financial support from Akaloa Resource Foundation and the Smithsonian’s Latino Initiatives Pool.
“It became a partnership between those organizations and then between the Y and the Smithsonian,” Rasmus said.
The exhibition took a half-day to set up at the Murphy Gallery and welcomed visitors at its opening reception on April 13.
Rasmus said the opening reception was “an opportunity for the two primary sponsoring organizations – being the Native American House and the Bruce D. Nesbitt African-American Cultural Center – to greet the audience in person … and just sort of share together with light refreshments and a nice conversation.”
She said that “IndiVisible” has been drawing a significant number of visitors to the Murphy Gallery.
“This gallery is adjacent to the Thai Eatery, so during the lunch hour, patrons of the eatery are enjoying the opportunity to see the show, and it can be a nice opportunity to come down to get lunch and view the exhibition,” Rasmus said. “It’s actually been packed; it’s been really interesting.”
According to Rasmus, the exhibition is “meant to be self-guided and both thoughtful and thought-provoking.”
“The hope of bringing the exhibit to campus was to create [an] educational opportunity for the community to learn about a lesser-known part of the shared experiences between African-Americans and Native Americans in history,” Singson said.
When a visitor walks into the Y and turns left, she is faced with the “IndiVisible” exhibition. The panels start on the left side of the entrance to the gallery and follow the path of Murphy Gallery’s walls, ending at the right side of the entrance.
The panels explain topics regarding being and belonging, land and identity, racial dilemmas, shared spirits, making connections and being united in a common struggle, among others.
“IndiVisible: African-Native American Lives in the Americas” is free and open to the public. Students and community members can stop by the Murphy Gallery from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Mondays through Thursdays and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays.