When Taos Pueblo fashion designer and artist Patricia Michaels was asked to participate in a Edward M. Kennedy Institute juried show stemming from the famous …
When Taos Pueblo fashion designer and artist Patricia Michaels was asked to participate in an Edward M. Kennedy Institute juried show stemming from the famous quote by Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm -- "If they don't give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair" -- she decided to give it a Native American twist.
"I thought of our Native folding chair as a blanket we fold and sit on, so I made the beautiful shawl and tree stump to put the shawl on," Michaels said.
The chair would be representative of Congresswoman Deb Haaland, D-New Mexico. Haaland is a Native woman from Laguna Pueblo.
"A Seat at the Table" exhibit is inspired by Chisholm's words and work toward creating a more inclusive democracy. "The first phase of the exhibit opened in October 2018 and is made possible with the generous support of the Fund II Foundation," a statement from the Edward M. Kennedy Institute reads.
"A Seat at the Table" opened Wednesday (June 12) at the Kennedy Institute in Boston, Massachusetts. The exhibit will evolve to include 20 artist-created chairs representing "the stories of both historic and contemporary trailblazers who found their own seats at the table" - such as Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Emma Gonzalez and Martin Luther King Jr.
In 1968, Shirley Chisholm became the first black woman elected to Congress. Four years later, she became the first black woman candidate to run for the presidential nomination of a major party and the first woman to seek the Democratic Party's nomination. The exhibit shares how Congresswoman Chisholm stepped up, claimed her seat at the table of public discourse and made a difference by representing a wide range of people and issues.
This exhibit features chairs created by community groups and individuals during institute-hosted workshops at schools, community organizations, libraries and social justice offices. The chair-makers creatively show their thoughts on identity, values and the social issues that need to be addressed at inclusive tables of power. The exhibit features audio recordings of the chair-makers' visions about their art, and a feedback area where visitors can contribute their own thoughts about representation and access to spaces of power.
"I chose Congresswoman Haaland out of a list of other [trailblazers] because she is our first Native New Mexican Congresswoman," Michaels said. "It is important to stand behind her and give her all of our support in her position."
Because she wanted to make something that would create "a little of what I believe would empower who she is," Michaels decided to "create something humble."
"On the occasions that I have been fortunate to speak with Congresswoman Haaland she spends the time to address many issues that are [those] of the working people and all that is living," Michaels said. "She is a smart modern woman [who] has family values and a strong voice for the missing and murdered indigenous women and girls."
Michaels said she was invited to work on an appointed task force to help Haaland with her campaign "to resolve these horrible the terrifying" truths of MMIWG. She also is fighting for no fracking of our natural resources on sacred old sites or Native lands. She is environmentally concerned. She is fighting for women's right to [choose]. She has her degree as an attorney and so she can read between the lines of the corporate world. Her sincere concerns for the people are real."
So, Michaels said she decided to create a lifelike aspen tree stump "because aspens grow in groves like family and people who work together to get the job done."
In addition, she made an abstract design of the New Mexico landscape from silk satin organza that she hand-painted. The design "is abstract because [Haaland] is a modern thinker with goals for the environment and everyone. This has been made into a shawl with fringe that represents all living matter. People, plants, animals, water and the air we breathe."
Her decision to use a folded bundle and shawl was "because as Native People we still use a folded blanket to sit on in our most powerful and humble moments with one another. ... I hope that [Haaland] will always have the blessings from New Mexico to keep her path lit with the strength she needs to continue to be her. She is rooted and grounded in our realities."
The concept of a "chair" can be creative, according to exhibit curator Jan Crocker. The concept of sitting at a table or being in the room where it happens is the main feature of the exhibit. The chair can be depicted in any way that supports the trailblazer's background and dedication to representation. All the pieces will be installed while maintaining the table with Congresswoman Chisholm's quote as the exhibit's centerpiece.
Haaland is listed among American trailblazers including Cesar Chávez, Grace Hopper, Mary McLeod Bethune, Daniel Inouye, Condoleezza Rice and others who can be seen at emkinstitute.org/resources/featured-trailblazers.
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