In honor of Indigenous People’s Day, we want to highlight some items from our 1992 Tribunal Collection and acknowledge the 30th anniversary of the International Tribunal of Indigenous Peoples and Oppressed Nations, held in San Francisco from October 2-4, 1992. Initiated by the American Indian Movement (AIM), the tribunal focused on challenging the 500th anniversary of the “discovery” of America by Christopher Columbus.

The exhibition catalog Remerica ! Amerika: 1492-1992 (1992) was actually one of the first items that I engaged as an intern at the Freedom Archives. The purpose of the exhibition was to respond to and question the quincentennial celebrations of Christopher Columbus’s arrival to the Americas with artworks that challenged positive associations with the historic “encounter” between civilizations, drawing attention to the reality of genocide that occurred as a result of Columbus’s alleged “discovery.”

Contained in the catalog is one of my favorite performance art pieces, Two Undiscovered Amerindians by Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gómez-Peña. The artists’ performance critiqued a highly dehumanizing turn-of-the-century practice: world fairs or “expos” which put captured indigenous peoples from across the globe in cages for westerners’ entertainment. In a dramatized setting that combined new technologies and pseudo “primitive” stereotypes, the artists presented themselves as caged Amerindians from a fictional island that they claimed was overlooked by Columbus. More than half of the visitors who saw the performance believed that the two were real captives, though Coco Fusco says their intent was actually not to convince people that the fiction of their being Amerindians was a reality. Rather, she says “we understood it to be a satirical commentary both on the Quincentenary celebrations and on the history of this practice of exhibiting human beings from Africa, Asia, and Latin America in Europe and the United States in zoos, theaters, and museums” (BOMB Magazine).

Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Two Undiscovered Aborigines Visit Madrid. Performance, May 1992. (photo: Peter Barker). In Remerica ! Amerika: 1492-1992 (1992 Tribunal Collection)

Additional artists featured in the exhibition include Elizam Escobar, a Puerto Rican freedom fighter, painter, and former political prisoner who contends that “we must understand history as a live process.” Elizam saw 1992 as more than a symbolic date, sharing in another resource entitled “Dissing the Discovery” that the occasion brings forth an opportunity to re-conceive independence and self-determination. The folks behind the 1992 Tribunal helped forge a movement capable of being internationalist in scope and committed to the liberation of all political prisoners.

Elizam Escobar, Autoretrato: 1992/Self-Portrait, 1992, 22 Mayo 1992. Acrylic over photograph with stamps. In Remerica ! Amerika: 1492-1992 (1992 Tribunal Collection)

Support indigenous and political prisoners’ struggles today by participating in Leonard Peltier’s Walk to Justice through November 14 and engaging the NDN Collective’s Right of Return is Landback.

View the 1992 Tribunal Collection here: