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Announcement
July 15, 2019

Wíwənikan…the beauty we carry

Colby College Museum of Art

Niskapisuwin (Geo Soctomah Neptune), Apikcilu Binds the Sun, 2018. Brown ash, sweetgrass, gold-plated glass beads, 16 1/2 x 9 x 9 inches. Collection of the artist.

Wíwənikan…the beauty we carry is an exhibition of contemporary art of the First Nations people of what is now Maine and Maritime Canada. Collectively known as the Wabanaki, the Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, and Abenaki have lived in and paddled through this region for thousands of years. This exhibition, featuring work by 38 artists, is the first major show of contemporary Wabanaki art to be held in an art museum and is accompanied by a publication. As co-curator Jennifer Neptune, Penobscot, states, “Other exhibits have focused on the past and focused on the old baskets and our elders, but we have people living now and let’s lift them up and move them forward.” On view within the exhibition are works by contemporary basketmakers, canoe-makers, painters, beadworkers, and more.

This exhibition and its associated programming reflect the Colby Museum’s commitment to inclusive and co-creational models of curation and interpretation. In the words of co-curator Kathleen Mundell, "It’s been an honor to be able to collaborate with the curatorial team, the community advisors and an extraordinary group of Wabanaki artists, who, throughout the process, have generously helped us select works and shape curatorial themes." Sharon Corwin, Carolyn Muzzy Director and Chief Curator, notes in the exhibition catalogue, “We are privileged to share these stories as part of our effort to make the museum a space where may voices contribute, through art, to the telling and retelling of American experience.”

The United Nations has declared 2019 the International Year of Indigenous Languages and, appropriately, Wíwənikan is the Penobscot word for portage. Like a river journey, Wabanaki history over the last five hundred years can be marked by a series of portage points in time: European contact and trade, colonization, international borders imposed upon indigenous territories, and settlers who altered the landscape and rivers so that the hunting and gathering were no longer viable. At each of these points, Wabanaki ancestors made decisions, just as they do today, about what traditions to carry forward. “Wíwənikan…the beauty we carry expresses Wabanaki sovereignty and resilience through our own lens of art and culture,” observes Theresa Secord, a Penobscot basketmaker represented within the exhibition and a member of the Colby College Museum of Art Board of Governors. “This exhibition is timely as the state approaches its bicentennial and as Mainers we’re invited to fully appreciate and understand the art and people who came before, during and after statehood.”

Wíwənikan…the beauty we carry is guest curated by Jennifer Neptune, Penobscot basketmaker and beadworker; and Kathleen Mundell, director of Cultural Resources, Inc. Curatorial advisors Gretchen Faulkner, director of the Hudson Museum at the University of Maine, and Theresa Secord consulted on the exhibition. In addition, the curators collaborated with a team of community advisors: James Francis (Penobscot), Suzanne Greenlaw (Maliseet), Brenda Moore Mitchell (Passamaquoddy), Jennifer Pictou (Micmac), and Frances Soctomah (Passamaquoddy). Julia Gray served as project manager.

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