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Sam Durant’s Scaffold to be buried, not burned

Dakota elders have decided the fate of the controversial sculpture

A woman hangs up a protest sign on a construction fence near the controversial new sculpture at the Walker Sculpture Garden (David Joles/Star Tribune via AP) David Joles/Star Tribune via AP

Dakota elders have decided to bury, rather than burn, the dismantled pieces of Sam Durant’s controversial sculpture Scaffold installed at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden earlier this summer. The work, commissioned by the Walker Art Center, sparked heated protests from Native American groups, since it recreated a gallows that the US Army used in 1862 to hang 38 Dakota men in Mankato, Minnesota.

The wooden pieces of the sculpture, which weigh over 50,000 pounds, were slated to burned on 2 June in a ceremony overseen by Dakota elders, the Walker originally announced. The plan was later rejected, as Dakota tradition holds that fire is scared and should not be used for destruction. There is no set date for the burial, which will take place in an undisclosed location.

True to the original agreement, Durant has transferred the copyright of the work to the Dakota people and the center agreed that it will not recreate the work again. “While Scaffold may no longer exist in Minneapolis in its physical manifestation,” the Walker’s director, Olga Viso, wrote in a comment piece published in our September issue, “for Durant, for me, for the Walker and for our community, the sculpture continues to exist powerfully and to raise awareness of the history of intergenerational trauma and of genocide that defined the birth of our nation.”