Public Lands, Private Hands

CoLab at the Lewis Arts Complex and the Princeton University Art Museum Works on Paper Study Room

In 1848, Mexico ceded Utah territory, along with much of the West, to the United States. Just after the Civil War, the United States government established millions of acres of national parks in their newly acquired lands. President Barack Obama created the most recent federal preserve, Bears Ears National Monument, in 2016, after concerted petitioning from Utah Diné Bikéyah, an Indigenous non-profit, and a coalition of five tribes—the Ute, Ute Mountain, Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni—concerned about land sovereignty in their traditional territories. Public lands face constant threat of resource development and desecration. In 2017, Bears Ears was reduced by one million acres. It is now exposed to vandalism, looting, and resource extraction.

In two parts, presented at the Princeton University Art Museum Works on Paper Study Room and at the CoLab at the Lewis Arts Complex, this exhibition traces a long history of exploration, missionizing, and settlement in the American West. It asks how such colonial projects shaped new territory for resource extraction. Generations of photographs from Princeton archives trace mineral resource development, the displacement of Indigenous peoples, and assimilation programs. Meanwhile, America’s seminal photographers journeyed to the West to capture its grandeur and collectors brought Indigenous belongings back to the East.

In the Works on Paper Study Room, a series of photographs is placed in conversation with Indigenous belongings and a sound installation. Underwood & Underwood stereoscopes, originally distributed by a network of college-student salesmen, capture mines, railways, and logging camps. Placards (with photographs by W. H. Jackson and William Bell) for Presbyterian missionary fundraising lectures segregate Indigenous peoples, their lands, and their arts, then offer models for assimilation education. Photographs taken by generations of artist pilgrims—including Carleton Watkins, Ansel Adams, Marilyn Bridges, and Minor White—reverently present national parks as vacant and pristine. A sound installation speaks back to the missionaries, miners, and artists. Navajo and Ute textiles and Pueblo ceramics, primarily collected by Presbyterian missionary Sheldon Jackson, insist upon centuries of Indigenous land use in these same territories. The materiality of wool, clay, and natural dyes and pigments confirms Indigenous methods for enduring land-based practices.

Land Acknowledgement

As members of the Princeton community, we acknowledge our presence on the traditional territory of the Lenape tribes past, present, and future. In New Jersey, these people include the Nanticoke-Lenni Lenape Tribal Nation, Powhatan Renape Nation, and Ramapough Lenape Nation. As part of this dialogue, we would also like to recognize the forced diaspora of the Delaware Tribe and Delaware Nation of Oklahoma, and the Stockbridge-Munsee Community of Wisconsin. We recognize that such a statement is limited in its ability to address complex histories of survivance in the face of involuntary assimilation, displacement, and exclusion. We hope to prompt action and dialogue around Indigenous rights and cultural equity moving forward. As part of this gathering and temporary exhibition, we encourage the University to act on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

  • Mashad Arora, Emmy Bender, Kara Bressler, Julianne Knott, Olivia Kusio, Isabelle Kuziel, Emily McLean, McGinnis Miller, Kate Schassler, Peter Schmidt, and Joanna Zhang - the students of the spring 2019 course “Exposure: The Storied Landscape of Bears Ears National Monuments and America's Public Lands” 

Co-Sponsors

The exhibition and events are sponsored by the Princeton Environmental Institute with additional support provided by the Princeton University Art Museum, University Center for Human Values, Humanities Council, the Undergraduate Student Government Projects Board, the Carl A. Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding, the Mamdouha S. Bobst Center for Peace and Justice, and the Lewis Center for the Arts.

The exhibition is organized by Fazal Sheikh, Eduardo Cadava, India Rael Young, and Federica Soletta in collaboration with students (Mashad Arora, Emmy Bender, Kara Bressler, Julianne Knott, Olivia Kusio, Isabelle Kuziel, Emily McLean, McGinnis Miller, Kate Schassler, Peter Schmidt, and Joanna Zhang) from the spring 2019 course “Exposure: The Storied Landscape of Bears Ears National Monuments and America's Public Lands.”