Arts & Culture

New SU art museum exhibition shares histories of the Haudenosaunee

SU art museum houses Haudenosaunee ceramics

Pottery by Onondaga artist Peter B. Jones showcases old and new traditions present in Syracuse’s Indigenous community

Museum-goer checking out the artwork of Peter B. Jones in the Syracuse University Art Museum
Syracuse University Art Museum
A museumgoer reviews work by Haudenosaunee artist Peter B. Jones in the recently opened exhibit at the Syracuse University Art Museum.

The Syracuse University Art Museum hosts the work a local Onondaga artist in the “Continuity, Innovation, and Resistance: The Art of Peter B. Jones” art exhibition. The museum held an opening reception for the exhibition on Thursday, Sept. 14. 

As a member of the Beaver Clan of the Onondaga Nation, Jones practices traditional Haudenosaunee art styles. Essential to his creative process, he focuses on Indigenous culture and how colonialism has impacted the traditions and livelihood in his community. 

Sascha Scott, exhibit curator and art history professor at Syracuse University, recognized the importance of featuring an Indigenous artist. She described Jones as “extraordinary.”

“We have a large population of Indigenous students whose culture and art is not, [and] was not, represented on our campus,” Scott said. Jones dedicates speaking time to Scott’s Native art class to bridge that gap. 

She explained the exhibit’s significance rests on unyielding yet ever-changing Indigenous traditions due to colonialism. The exhibit itself resists the idea that Native communities no longer exist in the area; a “sense of presence” is demonstrated as visitors walk through the museum, according to Scott. 

The first step in starting a dialogue is exposure to history and culture to those who may not be familiar. Kate Holohan, the museum’s Curator of Education and Academic Outreach, aims to understand the perspective of the art in order to convey its meaning to others. Her hope is that the exhibition sparks communication and growth.

“I’m seeing this exhibition as this opportunity to learn more as a person that does not come from this culture and to listen to people who do come from this culture – to look at Peter’s work to listen to what his work is trying to communicate,” Holohan said of being unfamiliar with Haudenosaunee history. “I think there’s a way to see our common experience in his work and to think about how we can be in conversation, in respectful conversation and dialogue with each other.”

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Artist Peter B. Jones speaks at the exhibit’s opening reception on Thursday, Sept. 14.

Jones himself mentioned the intention to teach through art in his own community and elsewhere. He hosts pottery workshops to teach members of his tribal community about traditional design and firing techniques. This educational effort was sparked by his own research into his tribe’s rich ceramics history.

“I’m not going to live forever and I want to share what I’ve learned over the years with some other people,” he said. “I want each student to teach another student and so forth and so on until we have a big group of 60 to 100 and become known for our pottery again.”

Jones hopes to pass on the tradition so members of the Indigenous community can maintain and develop their identities. Though, his work is not solely for members of the Indigenous community. He wants all people to be able to reflect upon his art.

“I hope that they can recognize themselves in my work – the Native people – and I hope that the non-Native people can see where they contributed to who we are; nothing good or bad about it, but just the way it is,” he said. “We can’t help who we are, but we can at least identify why we are.”

“Continuity, Innovation, and Resistance: The Art of Peter B. Jones” is currently on display at the Syracuse University Art Museum. It will remain a part of the collection until Dec. 15.