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Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki exhibit honors Tribal elders

The acrylic painting “Traditions” by Noah Billie. (Li Cohen)

BIG CYPRESS — While the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum is known for preserving the Seminoles’ past, it is constantly working to honor the present and pave the way for the future. In doing so, the museum curated the exhibit “Depicting Wisdom: Seminole Elders in Art.”

The exhibit features work by Tribal members Noah Billie, Henahayo, Broden Osceola, Jimmy John Osceola and Mary Gay Osceola. The collection of paintings, drawings and photographs, many of which are from the 1980s and ‘90s, is set for display until April 17. A reception for the artists was held Nov. 16 to celebrate their work.

Curator of Exhibits Rebecca Fell explains the significance of portraying Tribal elders through art at the exhibit reception Nov. 16. (Li Cohen)

Rebecca Fell, curator of exhibits, said that the exhibit is a way to push against the popular misconception that Native American tribes are losing their culture.

“What you see here is artists from a lot of different generations taking the time and the energy to depict their elders and that is a very key aspect of Seminole culture. The elders hold the stories. The culture and the history is shared and passed through the elders,” she explained. “You always want things to be interesting and you want people to come in, but I think the bigger, deeper story here is that these artists are depicting their elders. Artists are always at the edges and boundaries of culture, so when they depict something about their culture, it’s important.”

One of Billie’s acrylic paintings, titled “Traditions,” depicts an elder sitting around a campfire with a group of children. The elder is dressed traditionally and is seen sitting in front of a chickee, while the more modern-dressed children are shown in front of tall buildings. Despite the seemingly clashing settings, the painting also shows the shadows of various animals intertwined with the clouds, which Fell says demonstrates the traditions passed on within the Tribe. Even though customs change over time, the traditions and stories are passed on from generation to generation.

Broden Osceola poses with the photos he took of his grandfather O.B. Osceola, shown top left and bottom right. (Li Cohen)

“Anyone, anywhere could understand that the guy in the painting is sharing his stories, sharing his legends,” she explained. “Some people can construe legends to mean silly, fanciful stories, but really legends carry culture and carry traditions.”

Featured artist Broden Osceola is the youngest artist featured in the exhibit, but his mission and message was just the same as Billie’s. His two photos depicted images of his grandfather, O.B. Osceola, who he says has a story that many people can learn from.

“He has a crazy story. He grew up in a time when civil rights were huge. He wasn’t even able to go to the white areas of Everglades City; it was really segregated. That’s a huge part of our history that’s kind of suppressed. I feel like we’re going back there and that’s not a good thing.”

While Broden Osceola feels history may be repeating its ways, he also said that taking the time to speak with elders and learn the lessons they have can reverse that process.

“We can learn from how they were raised and treated, especially going back to what time was like for them back then. We can learn from what they experienced and bring it back to our current events to help prevent repeating history.”

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Li Cohen
When she isn't drinking a [probably excessive] cup of coffee, Li is reading and writing about local, national and international news. She can also be seen running around NYC in preparation of marathon season and travelling to new lands. Make sure to check out her work at liyakira.com, send her an email at liyakira9410@gmail.com and follow her journeys on Twitter (@WritingLiYakira) and Instagram (@LiYakira).
http://liyakira.com

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