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Arts & Culture

Student exhibit continues Columbus Day dialogue

Contributing Writer
Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Though faculty made the decision to change the name of the recent October holiday from Columbus Day to Fall Weekend last year, the dialogue continues in an exhibit at the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology.

“Reimagining Columbus, Reimagining Columbus Day,” curated by graduate students, puts Brown’s decision in the context of the holiday’s history, according to Steve Lubar, professor of American civilization and director of the Haffenreffer Museum.

As part of the museum-wide exhibit “Reimagining the Americas,” which discusses how ancient indigenous peoples have been represented by anthropologists, this smaller show aims at “bringing that discussion up to date,” Lubar said.

Preceding the exhibit’s opening Friday was a performance at List Art Center by Apache singer Boe Titla, who is performing at a number of East Coast universities this fall.

Before Titla began, the audience was treated to a surprise opening act. Rose Simpson, a graduate student at the Rhode Island School of Design and a member of Native Americans at Brown, performed songs and spoken word she wrote about life in her home town, the Santa Clara pueblo of New Mexico.

Simpson moved about the stage, beginning by facing away from the audience and drawing on a blackboard as she sang. She moved between speech and soulful song, English and the Tewa language of the pueblo, in an unconventional but engaging manner. Her songs, particularly the final number dedicated to her grandmother, were hauntingly beautiful.

When she finished, Titla took to the stage. Interspersing detailed stories and simple songs about his life, he gave an impression of the landscape of his home, his childhood and his transition from cowboy to country singer to a more traditional musical focus on his origins.

In one story, he told the audience how he learned to play the guitar by watching and listening to his older brother. “To this day, I don’t know the names of the chords,” he said.

After the performance, guests made their way up the hill to the Haffenreffer for the exhibit’s opening reception.

Nestled in a small corner of the already compact Haffenreffer, “Reimagining Columbus, Reimagining Columbus Day” gives a concise summary of Columbus Day’s history. Four display cases focus on Columbus’ first contact with the Taino people, the movement to make a national holiday starting in 1893, perceptions and representations of American Indians and Brown’s recent controversy over changing the name of the holiday.

In the display about the reaction at Brown, guests can find photos from last year’s protests, an old article from The Herald, letters from students, administrators and faculty and the original petition signed by students to change the holiday’s name.

Many items in this final display were contributed by the Task Force on the Legacy of American Colonialism, a student group that organized a number of events around the Columbus Day issue last week. “Our mission is basically to continue the dialogue,” said member Reiko Koyama ’11.

“Reimagining Columbus, Reimagining Columbus Day” is part of a larger attempt to bring the museum into the public eye with more student-organized, current events-focused exhibits. “This is the beginning of what I hope is a new style of exhibits at the Haffenreffer,” Lubar said.

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