News / USA

Exhibit Explores Modern Native American Art

American Indian museum showcases contemporary works by 25 artists

The exhibition 'Vantage Point' features works from the National Museum of the American Indian's permanent collection of contemporary art.
The exhibition 'Vantage Point' features works from the National Museum of the American Indian's permanent collection of contemporary art.

Multimedia

Audio

A current exhibit at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC, offers a modern take on traditional native cultures.

The museum is devoted to the history and culture of native peoples of the Western Hemisphere. Since opening in 2004, the museum has put a strong emphasis on contemporary Native American life. Its latest exhibit, "Vantage Point" is a perfect example.

Brightly colored abstract paintings, a bronze sculpture and a digital video are among the 31 works of art that make up the new exhibit. The works here are probably not what most visitors expect to see at the National Museum of the American Indian, says curator Rebecca Head Trautmann. "I think that people are often surprised when they come to this museum and see an exhibition of modern or contemporary Native art."

She hopes "Vantage Point" will surprise and challenge people's notions of what Native American art is and what Native American artists do.

Sewing circle

Marie Watt, a Seneca, is one of those Native artists challenging the notion of what American Indian art is. She sews together recycled fabric, something like piecing a quilt.

Watt creates most of her pieces in a sewing circle and says, "many hands make light work." She spent a Sunday at the museum enlisting the help of visitors to create a new work.

Marie Watt's In the Garden (Corn, Beans, and Squash) pays homage to three traditional American Indian foods.
Marie Watt's In the Garden (Corn, Beans, and Squash) pays homage to three traditional American Indian foods.

More than half a dozen women sat around a large table on which several pairs of blue jeans had been pinned together in a circle. Participants were told they could come and go as they pleased and that no sewing experience was necessary.

Watt says any age can participate, from as young as two to as old as 100. "I never take out anybody's stitches in the sewing circle," she says, "but if there are any weak links I'll reinforce them. Everybody's stitches are important." They are, she says, "unique like a thumbprint or signature."

You can see the variety of stitches used to assemble an earlier work in the Vantage Point exhibit. In the Garden: Corn, Beans and Squash represents three traditional foods of the Seneca people. The material it is made from -- recycled wool blankets -- also has meaning.

"I started collecting these blankets, wanting to use this kind of ordinary everyday object," Watt says. "But I was also interested in how blankets are these objects in the native community and in the Seneca community that we give away to honor people for being witness to important life events."

Personal landscape

All of the works in the exhibit explore identity, history, culture or landscape from a Native American perspective. That point of view is evident in some works, but not all.

James Lavadour's Blanket is composed of 15 small panels painted in bold colors. Trautmann says it is a landscape of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.  But it's a personal impression of the land where the Walla Walla artist grew up.  The work doesn't represent the physical appearance of the landscape, "but rather the forces, the geological and meteorological forces that have shaped the landscape."

In this detail of Marie Watt's In the Garden (Corn, Beans, and Squash), you can see the variety of stitches people have contributed to her work.
In this detail of Marie Watt's In the Garden (Corn, Beans, and Squash), you can see the variety of stitches people have contributed to her work.

It doesn't have to look Indian

James Luna, a Puyoukichum (Luiseno), from Southern California, almost always creates works with a distinctly Indian viewpoint.  But he says, "I do believe it doesn't have to look Indian to be Indian. It's the very fact that I am an Indian making art that it becomes Indian art."

His piece, "Chapel for Pablo Tac," was created for the 2005 Biennale and is the largest work in the exhibition. The work is an installation resembling a Spanish mission in California, complete with bench seats and an altar. It explores the impact of Christianity on Native Americans, juxtaposing objects used during traditional native worship alongside those used during a Catholic mass. For example, a bundle of dried sage next to an incense burner, and a rattle made from a gourd beside bells.

Among the objects on the altar in 'Temple for Pablo Tac' are a chalice, a medicine pouch, and eagle feathers.
Among the objects on the altar in 'Temple for Pablo Tac' are a chalice, a medicine pouch, and eagle feathers.

The piece pays homage to a member of Luna's tribe who traveled to Rome nearly 200 years ago to study for the Catholic priesthood. "He never returned home," Trautmann says, "but he wrote a history of the missionization of the Luiseno people. He also began the first dictionary and grammar of the Luiseno language."

Luna says he chose Pablo Tac as the subject of this work, because Tac challenges the public's preconception of Native Americans. "If you look at the cultures of native California, we were primarily hunters and gatherers, so people walk away with that concept of us being less than," the artist says. "The inclusion of Pablo Tac elevates us to a whole other level. It elevates us from spear-chuckers to linguist."

Known primarily as a performance artist, Luna seeks to educate the public through his art.
"Given the opportunity the most I can wish for would be that people reconsider the native experience as they see it, that once seeing a work of mine or [a] performance, they will reconsider what they know."

Although other artists in the Vantage Point exhibit may not share Luna's mission, their works are a reminder that American Indian cultures are not frozen in the 19th century, but continue to evolve today.

You May Like

Conflicts Engulf Christians in Mideast

Research finds an increase in faith-based hostilities, and Christians are facing persecution in a growing number of countries in the region More

Chinese Americans: Don’t Call Us 'Model Minority'

Label points to collective achievement, but some say it triggers resentment, unrealistic expectations More

Iran Bolsters Phone, Internet Surveillance

Does increased monitoring suggest the government is nervous? More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Polish Ghetto

When the Nazi army moved into the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid