MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis will remove a gallows-like sculpture because of protests from Native Americans who say it brought back painful memories of the mass hanging of 38 Dakota men in 1862.
“Scaffold” is a two-story sculpture from 2012 by Los Angeles artist Sam Durant. It was inspired in part by the 1862 hanging in Mankato at the end of the U.S.-Dakota War, which was the largest mass execution in U.S. history, as well as six other hangings. It was set to debut this coming Saturday when the museum’s Minneapolis Sculpture Garden reopens after a reconstruction project.
While Durant intended to raise awareness about capital punishment and America’s violent past, protesters said it was insensitive and trivialized a dark chapter in Minnesota and Dakota history.
Walker executive director Olga Viso issued a statement Saturday apologizing for not anticipating how provocative the work would be. She said she had spoken with Durant, and he was open to removing the sculpture.
“I regret that I did not better anticipate how the work would be received in Minnesota, especially by Native audiences,” she wrote. “I should have engaged leaders in the Dakota and broader Native communities in advance of the work’s siting, and I apologize for any pain and disappointment that the sculpture might elicit.”
About 100 protesters gathered at site on Saturday, holding signs that read “Take it down” and “Execution is not art.”
“I could feel all our pain, our collective pain is what my concern was,” said Janice Bad Moccasin, a Dakota who joined the protest. “I didn’t want our children to hear these stories and to see this gallows.”
Museum officials and Durant plan to meet with Dakota elders Wednesday to discuss exactly how and when the structure will be removed.
Sheldon Wolfchild, a Dakota elder from Morton who has strong family connections to the 38 who were executed, said the decision to erect such a sculpture was proof that Minnesotans need to be reeducated on history — particularly the psychological and generational trauma endured by the descendants of the victims.
“It’s maddening,” Wolfchild said. “How can a major institution not see that?”
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