The Chehalem Cultural Center (CCC) in Newberg, Oregon, is facing accusations of censorship after taking down an artist’s banner painted with the words “Defund the Police, Decolonize the Street.” Demian DinéYazhi’, a trans nonbinary artist of the Naasht’ézhí Tábąąhá (Zuni Clan Water’s Edge) and Tódích’íí’nii (Bitter Water) clans within the Diné tribe, voiced their disappointment on social media last Friday when they learned that one of their pieces had been removed without their knowledge from the CCC’s most recent exhibition, which celebrates Indigenous artists.
Showing alongside Wendy Red Star, Lillian Pitt, Marie Watt, Vanessa Enos, Natalie Ball, Ka’ila Farrell-Smith, and Jeremy Red Star Wolf, DinéYazhi’ had multiple works in the CCC exhibition The Stone Path, which opened to the public on August 2. DinéYazhi”s display included the painted banner fastened to the wall beside a Diné Masani (grandmother) scarf, a variety of letterpress prints from the artist’s extractive industries (2022–ongoing) series, and a lithograph print, “NAASHT’ÉZHI TÁBAAHÁ GIRLS” (2017), based on a photo of their mother and grandmother.
CCC Executive Director Sean Andries reportedly removed the banner artwork, titled “Decolonize This Street” (2020), prior to the exhibition’s opening night after staff members expressed safety concerns.
In DinéYazhi”s Instagram post, the artist alleges that the CCC neither consulted them nor the exhibition’s curatorial team, made up of Art in Oregon co-founders Tammy Jo Wilson and Owen Premore and residency coordinator Selena Jones, about the removal of the banner, but notified them of the decision afterwards.
In an email to Hyperallergic, Andries said that the curatorial team had not shared which artworks would be featured in the exhibition prior to installation during the weekend of July 30. “We did not see it until it was up,” Andries said. “We reached out to the curators on Monday afternoon for more clarity and context about the piece and to discuss how we support this work in the context of our community.”
Andries explained that the banner was removed on Tuesday morning ahead of opening night and that he made contact with the curatorial team later that day to express his concerns, specifying that the CCC didn’t notify DinéYazhi’ directly. The exhibition curatorial team, however, told Hyperallergic that the Center had access to the show’s inventory checklist prior to install, and that an exhibition coordinator was onsite to assist with hanging the work.
An apology to the artist and curatorial team was posted on the CCC website beneath the exhibition text for The Stone Path, stating that the center and its staff and board members have “become the target of troubling attacks with increasing frequency and growing aggression.”
Andries declined to elaborate on particular instances directed toward the center’s staff and board members, but said that police intervention was required as recently as last month. “People have been coming here and taking action based on the rumors and lies of the local hate blog with increasing frequency and in increasingly alarming ways,” he wrote. On June 25, a reporter for the conservative Yamhill Advocate was at the center during a kids-oriented Pride event and was asked to leave by police after two hours of investigating rumors that there was a drag artist onsite.
Since the banner removal, DinéYazhi’ has opted to withdraw their lithograph print and the yellow-painted banner from their section of the exhibition, leaving behind the Diné Masani scarf and the three extractive industries prints that directly critique institutional statements of solidarity, land acknowledgment, and diversity commitments. DinéYazhi”s statement now occupies the former banner space, calling it a “site of erasure, censorship, and colonial violence.”
Regarding their decision to remove other works from the exhibition, DinéYazhi’ commented on the discrepancy between showing the image of their mother and grandmother and not taking a stand against the forces that continue to oppress them.
“They don’t get to feel safe and celebrate what’s pretty about Indigenous survivance without actually sticking up for like issues that are harming Indigenous communities,” the artist told Hyperallergic.
The artist’s statement also juxtaposes evidence of an anti-racism event CCC held in 2020 and the organization’s “Commitment to Inclusion” statement with the decision to remove the banner three years down the line, saying that the CCC has “chosen to stand on the side of conservative extremism and fear by censoring the work of an Indigenous Non-Binary Trans artist.”
Beside DinéYazhi”s text is a statement from the curatorial team from Art in Oregon that acknowledges the “trauma felt by Chehalem Cultural Center’s staff from previous abuses,” but voices immense disapproval of the decision to remove the banner. Andries confirmed that both texts will remain onsite through the end of the exhibition.
“This mostly empty gallery wall space serves as a collective expression of our dwindling freedoms and quickness to violence, with the Mansani scarf offering a direct but gentle reminder of our complicated American story,” the curatorial team’s statement reads. Artist Natalie Ball confirmed with Hyperallergic that she withdrew her work from the show entirely when she learned of what happened to DinéYazhi’.
“I pulled my work immediately in a gesture of refusal as both an artist who was born and raised in Oregon, and a Matriarch who is connected to our tribal territory in Oregon since the beginning of time,” Ball said. “We’re well aware of the continued settler violences here, and the CCC’s actions are perfectly in line with the historical and continued settler violences.” The artist has also requested that her gallery statement in place of her work to be replaced with a simple “booooooo.”
“We have done harm to Demian, to the contributing artists of this show, to the curators, and to their communities,” Andries said. “That should never happen. CCC needs to take an honest look at itself to understand the pressures that resulted in that harm.”