Like a lot of researchers who study at Bard Graduate Center, I have spent a lot of time in museums, contemplating the material life of collections. I came to BGC in Fall 2016 to study Native American pictographic traditions, such as winter counts, exploit robes, and other textiles that recorded events in personal and communal indigenous histories. As an interdisciplinary scholar of literature, I was working on an analysis of a winter count that appears in pivotal scene in Fools Crow, a novel by James Welch, and having the chance to study not only the functions but the materiality of pictographic texts—the way that bones had to be cut to properly apply paint; the difficulty of rendering the color blue; the system of apprenticeship for winter count keepers—produced insights I could not have discovered otherwise. I found wonderful interlocutors among my colleagues at BGC, a library brimming with resources, and a perfect, sunny space for writing. My time at BGC coincided with the exhibit Unbound: Narrative Art of the Plains at the National Museum of the American Indian, New York, where I spent many hours in the company of indigenous textiles and materials.

Yet it wasn’t only the materiality but also the immateriality of museum collections that interested me: the affective worlds of connection with contemporary indigenous communities, ongoing debates over repatriation, and the animate nature of the items themselves. For some time I had been working on a creative project that centered on these questions: an adaptation of the Greek tragedy Antigone to a Native American context. Much of the research and writing for my play, Antíkoni, was done during my fellowship at BGC, some of it in the galleries of the NMAI itself. Now, exactly two years after my fellowship, Antíkoni is having its premiere performance at the University of California, Berkeley, my home campus. My adaptation figures a Native American family being torn apart over the same questions that haunt the original: what do the living owe the dead, what are the limits of State power, especially in light of eternal laws, and what are the ultimate costs of sacrifice? While hewing to the form of the original, it nonetheless departs in important ways: Kreon is head of the museum, not the head of state, and he is advised not by a Greek chorus but a chorus of Aunties who tell stories in the Nez Perce tradition. Fittingly, the first run of the play takes place in the gallery of the Hearst Museum of Anthropology, with the audience seated among the vitrines and displays. Antíkoni is currently on the syllabi of university courses in Classics, Rhetoric, Theatre, and Native American Studies at Berkeley, Harvard, and elsewhere, and is part of my forthcoming mixed genre collection, The Beadworkers: Stories, which will be released in 2019. I am most grateful to BGC for the space, time, and resources that supported both my scholarly and creative writing, and especially to Dean Peter Miller, Aaron Glass, Ivan Gaskell, and other wonderful colleagues whose influence shaped my work. I loved my time at Bard Graduate Center, and thrived in the company of others who were drawn, as I am, to matters of form.

Beth Piatote, Associate Professor of Native American Studies, University of California, Berkeley; Bard Graduate Center Visting Fellow, September–November 2016.