Erin Genia

Material Agency

In my museum research, I have come across hundreds of Dakota ancestral works that remain trapped in museum collections, hidden away, inaccessible to our people. This ceremonial feast bowl depicting Iya, the spirit of gluttony, speaks, to complicate the viewer’s perception of a museum artifact. This piece probes the boundary between museum culture and Indigenous perspectives by questioning Western art collection aesthetics whose origins stem from the Wunderkammer, or cabinet of curiosity. The work draws aural attention to the boundaries placed on the art and creative practices of Indigenous peoples that have been kept in place by Western practices of producing, displaying and preserving art. How can the Indigenous reality that ancient artifacts have a life of their own and their own agency be reconciled with the politics and practices of museum collection, preservation and display?

This work is part of a series called Sound Vessels, ceramic sculptures that link the materiality of sound to form. The ceramic vessels are built to hold and transmit sound, rather than the usual use of clay vessels as containers for solids or liquids. Using sound as a material, this work explores how it can interact with objects, through the medium of earth, by experimenting with various types of sounds and shapes. In the Dakota philosophy of Mitakuye Oyasin, all things in the universe have their own agency – people, animals, plants, rocks, electricity, air, etc. – and are interrelated within a continuum of life.



Erin Genia (she/her), an enrolled member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate, is a multidisciplinary artist, educator and community organizer specializing in Native American and Indigenous arts and culture. Genia’s artistic practice merges Dakota cultural imperatives, pure expression, and exploration of materiality with the conceptual. She holds an M.S. in Art, Culture and Technology from MIT, an M.P.A. in Tribal Governance from the Evergreen State College and studied at Institute of American Indian Arts.

Learn more about Erin here.