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  • Shawn Gilliam

CELEBRATING PRIDE MONTH at MIA: Thoughts for the Tour of the Month

Mia Guide Nancy Kelly gave Pride tours for the first time last year. As Mia launches the June Tour of the Month—once again, focused on Pride—she reflects on her experience.


What We Want is Free, 2020 by Jeffrey Gibson. Acrylic on canvas with glass beads and artificial sinew with painted wood frame. Gift of Funds from Mary and Bob Mersky and The Jane and James Emison Endowment for Native American Art 2021.28. On View in Gallery 261. Credit: Minneapolis Institute of Art.

The concept of Two Spirit—a modern term used by many Indigenous North Americans to describe people who fulfill a traditional third gender—was one that Mia Guide Nancy Kelly had not explored until she toured the galleries for the Pride-themed June Tour of the Month last year. But it interested her, so she and fellow guides Josie Owens and Colleen Watson included it as part of their discussion of What We Want Is Free in G261 by the artist Jeffrey Gibson, who is of Cherokee heritage, is a member of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw, and has identified as queer and gay.


“In our research, we learned there were about 150 tribes in North America where people have both male and female spirits,” Nancy says. “It was different within each tribe, and different tribes had different words for it, but Two Spirits became kind of an all-encompassing term for it following a Canadian tribal event in the 1990s. From there, it became much broader than what it was with each of the tribes individually, and the term is pretty widely used now. People embodying Two Spirits are gifted, revered, and admired.”


What We Want Is Free provided Nancy with the perfect opportunity to discuss Two Spirits and other issues of importance to Gibson, who describes the painting as expressing the necessity of “dignity, respect, joy, freedom, and liberation” for marginalized communities.


Santos Dumont - The Father of Aviation II, 2009 by Kehinde Wiley. Oil on Canvas.

Gift of Funds from Two Anonymous Donors, 2010.99. On View in Gallery 374. Credit: Minneapolis Institute of Art.



While contemporary pieces—also including Santos Dumont: The Father of Aviation II by Kehinde Wiley (who identifies as gay) and Arose by Shahzia Sikander (who identifies as straight but explores female sexuality in her work)—provided natural connections to the Pride topic, Nancy quickly learned that historical pieces did, too. One of those was the Corinthian Helmet in G241. “The Thebes warriors may have worn a helmet similar to this,” Nancy says. “The 300 men were couples in love. Scholars still debate whether the band of Thebes were created in response to Plato’s famous discussion in the Symposium of an army of male lovers who would be willing to die for one another and fight to protect their loved one.” (Nancy suggests https://www.worldhistory.org/Sacred_Band_of_Thebes/ for more information regarding Plato and where the concept originated.)


Corinthian Helmut, c. 540 BCE. Unknown Greek. Bronze.

Gift of Ruth and Bruce Dayton, 2001.80.1. On View in Gallery 241. Credit: Minneapolis Institute of Art.


Nancy notes that Josie and Colleen shared research and resources. “We all included discussions about the 250 bills in state legislatures at the time that were fighting against LGBT+ rights. And on top of that, the numbers of trans youth committing suicide is tragic. I think these were good awareness pieces to include on the tour.”


For Nancy, the experience was right in line with her work at Mia from the start. “It’s an ongoing journey—being inquisitive and open-minded and embracing everyone’s differences and how beautiful they are,” she says. “It’s part of what we do as guides—learning about and sharing ideas about different people and different cultures at different times in history.”


Pride programming this year includes tours planned with help from Mia’s Dustin Steuck, Events Lead, and Kate Brenner-Adam, VE Representative, plus events noted here: https://new.artsmia.org/pride-at-mia/.

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