Susan L. Allen & Amy B. Weisgram Engstrom
In the summer of 2017, artist Sam Durant’s exhibition Scaffold evoked the collective memory of atrocities committed against the Dakota people. The sculpture represented seven gallows used in historic U.S. government executions, including one used in 1862 in Mankato, Minnesota for the mass execution of thirty-eight Dakota prisoners—the “Dakota 38.”
The Walker Art Center, located in Minneapolis, Minnesota commissioned Scaffold for placement in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden as part of a multi-million–dollar renovation. Durant intended his artistic expression to be retrospective of “the difficult histories of the racial dimension of the criminal justice system in the United States, ranging from lynchings to mass incarceration to capital punishment.” But to the Dakota, Scaffold represented a clear, personal reminder of a painful time in their tribe’s history.