© 2023 MICHIGAN RADIO
91.7 Ann Arbor/Detroit 104.1 Grand Rapids 91.3 Port Huron 89.7 Lansing 91.1 Flint
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

An 'anti-World's Fair' makes its case: give land back to Native Americans

The artists, brothers Adam and Zack Khalil and Jackson Polys, are part of the collective the New Red Order. They call it a "public secret society." Here they are with Creative Time curator Diya Vij.
Keren Carrión/NPR
The artists, brothers Adam and Zack Khalil and Jackson Polys, are part of the collective the New Red Order. They call it a "public secret society." Here they are with Creative Time curator Diya Vij.

From the elevated platform of the 7 train in Queens, New York, a formerly-empty lot now looks like a carnival. There's lights and colorful posters and — wait. Is that a giant, talking beaver?

Yes. Yes, it is.

Bruno is an animatronic beaver — think Disney World — and is talking to Ash, a life-sized, animatronic tree. But their conversation is nothing you'd hear at that theme park in Orlando. Instead, it's in part about the clash between the philosophy underpinning the European understanding of land and the Native American understanding.

"Can you believe [the settlers] actually think that freedom is private property?" the tree exclaims, his face appalled.

People watch Dexter and Sinister (2023), a talking animatronic tree and beaver chat about the historical differences between how European settlers and Indigenous people see land and private property.
/ Keren Carrión/NPR
/
Keren Carrión/NPR
People watch Dexter and Sinister (2023), a talking animatronic tree and beaver chat about the historical differences between how European settlers and Indigenous people see land and private property.
The World's UnFair, an art installation in Long Island City, Queens, calls for the audience to join the New Red Order as "accomplices" to assist in getting people to give land to indigenous peoples.
/ Keren Carrión/NPR
/
Keren Carrión/NPR
The World's UnFair, an art installation in Long Island City, Queens, calls for the audience to join the New Red Order as "accomplices" to assist in getting people to give land to indigenous peoples.

The beaver and tree are part of a festive, tongue-in-cheek art installation by New Red Order and commissioned by Creative Time called "The World's UnFair" that has one goal: to convince people to give public and private land back to the people who once occupied it.

"I would just encourage people, if they have the means and ability, to give it back and if they don't, maybe help Indigenous people take it back," said Adam Khalil, a filmmaker and one of the three Indigenous artists behind the exhibit. It runs through mid-October.

Kalil and his brother Zack Khalil, both Chippewa, are two-thirds of what they call the New Red Order, a "public secret society." They are originally from Sault Ste. Marie, Mich... though they currently live in New York City. The third artist, Jackson Polys, is Tlingit and splits his time between Alaska and New York.

Giving land back to Indigenous peoples may....seem unimaginable. But the artists say that helping people imagine the unimaginable is one of the purposes of art.

"What we're interested in here is presenting an Indigenous perspective on what's possible for the future," Zack Khalil said.

The "New Red Order Realty" office showcases a film of testimonials from people and municipalities who deeded land back to indigenous groups. "I'm so proud of our city, that we were able to make a small amends by returning an island where a massacre, horrible massacre happened," said Eureka mayor Kim Bergel.
/ Keren Carrión/NPR
/
Keren Carrión/NPR
The "New Red Order Realty" office showcases a film of testimonials from people and municipalities who deeded land back to indigenous groups. "I'm so proud of our city, that we were able to make a small amends by returning an island where a massacre, horrible massacre happened," said Eureka mayor Kim Bergel.
A crowd of people at The World's UnFair is reflected in the glass eye of the animatronic talking tree.
/ Keren Carrión/NPR
/
Keren Carrión/NPR
A crowd of people at The World's UnFair is reflected in the glass eye of the animatronic talking tree.

The artists hope that the carnival-like atmosphere will draw non-Native people in. A clutch of documentaries — and mockumentaries — make their case. One, situated behind a folding table, is basically a recruitment video for the New Red Order. There's a phone number. There's a website. It calls on "accomplices" to join together with Indigenous people to help reclaim their land.

Another, which plays in a shipping container called the "real estate office," showcases real stories of people, groups and municipalities already doing this. The city of Eureka, Calif., gave over a small island to the Wiyot people. Oakland, Calif., gave about five acres of a park to the Sogorea Te' Land Trust and the Confederated Villages of Lisjan Nation.

People watch a talking animatronic tree and beaver chat about land and private property, along with a tongue-in-cheek video. The various documentaries and mockumentaries have slogans like, "Never settle!" and "Give It Back!"
/ Keren Carrión/NPR
/
Keren Carrión/NPR
People watch a talking animatronic tree and beaver chat about land and private property, along with a tongue-in-cheek video. The various documentaries and mockumentaries have slogans like, "Never settle!" and "Give It Back!"

The many testimonials (real and fictional ones) do what they are meant to: make the ideas behind it seem reasonable, even a foregone conclusion.

"It's a spectacle, and it's playing with these ideas of Worlds Fairs and fairgrounds and festivals, [but] it is deeply earnest and real," said Diya Vij, who curated the installation for Creative Time. "The ideas are not fiction. It's an invitation to enter, to join, to seek, to take in, to learn, to listen."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: October 11, 2023 at 12:00 AM EDT
Previous versions of this story incorrectly stated the city that gave back an island as Eureka, Ore. It is Eureka, Calif.
Jennifer Vanasco
Jennifer Vanasco is an editor on the NPR Culture Desk, where she also reports on theater, visual arts, cultural institutions, the intersection of tech/culture and the economics of the arts.