A New Kind of World’s Fair Is Coming to Queens. Its Message? Give Back All Indigenous Land

‘The World’s UnFair,’ as the event is called, was conceived by New Red Order and put on by Creative Time. 

A poster for New Red Order's upcoming The World's UnFair project. Courtesy of NRO and Creative Time.

In 1939, and then again in 1964, Queens, New York played host to the World’s Fair, an international expo where countries came together to show off their achievements in technology and industry. This September, the borough will play host to a different event: The World’s UnFair. 

That’s the name of a new Creative Time-presented project by the collective New Red Order (NRO). With artworks, film screenings, and musical performances, the event will mimic the elaborate pageants of yore, albeit with a different agenda: to expose, in the group’s words, the United States as an “ongoing occupation of stolen Indigenous land.” 

Founded by artists Adam and Zack Khalil (who are both Ojibway, Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians) and Jackson Polys (Tlingit), New Red Order identifies itself as a “public secret society composed of networks of informants and accomplices dedicated to rechanneling desires for indigeneity towards the expansion of Indigenous futures.” That may be a mouthful, but the group’s central message is pointedly uncomplicated: “Give it back.”  

New Red Order. Courtesy of the artists.

For NRO, the phrase is a call to action: return all land to the peoples who were forcibly displaced from it by settler colonialists. Through its larger, ongoing research project—also called Give It Back—the group investigates and promotes real-life instances where this exchange has voluntarily taken place.  

“New Red Order’s whole work is about harnessing people’s desire for indigeneity—to co-opt it, to appropriate it, to assume it,” said Creative Time curator Diya Vij, who is organizing The World’s UnFair with the collective. NRO’s goal, she went on, is to “take that desire and turn it toward a pathway for [transforming] settlers into accomplices in the return of all indigenous land and life.” 

“They say ‘Give it back’ instead of ‘land back’ because it is something that we can all do. It is a giving and not a taking. It’s being in community together,” Vij added.

Among other attractions, The World’s UnFair will feature an installation of hundreds of tribal flags, signposts indicating the site’s proximity to present day locations of diasporic Lenape communities, and a large-scale video sculpture—titled Fort Freedumb—enwrapped in various forms of fencing. At the center of the fair will be Dexter and Sinister (2023), an animatronic talking tree and beaver that chat with each other about issues of land and the concept of private property. 

An illustrative map for New Red Order’s upcoming The World’s UnFair project. Courtesy of NRO and Creative Time.

That NRO would be interested in the World’s Fairs make sense. With its expos, the U.S. has a troubling history of exploiting indigenous and other minority communities to prop up its own imperialist ideologies. The Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, for instance, barred people of color from participating in the event’s central “White City” section. The St. Louis iteration of 1904 put Filipinos and Native Americans on display to demonstrate “uncivilized” cultures. 

“In a time where the future appears bleak or non-existent, giving it back offers a bright path forward, a way for us to survive an apocalypse together,” NRO said in a joint statement. “The landmass here is enormous. And its ecological capacity to sustain life is immense if we care for these resources correctly. You can have a place. But first things first: Give it back.”   

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