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

Photogallery Obama Announces Plan to Send 3,000 Troops to Liberia in Ebola Fight

At US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Obama details troop deployment and other pieces of US plan More

China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

Muslims in Kunming say that they condemn the violence, it is not a reflection of the true beliefs of their faith More

Humanitarian Aid, Equipment Blocked in Cameroon

Move is seen as a developing supply crisis in West Africa 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.
Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Communityi
X
September 16, 2014 2:06 PM
Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Americans' Reaction Mixed on Obama Strategy for Islamic State Militants

President Barack Obama’s televised speech on how the United States plans to “degrade and destroy” the group known as the Islamic State reached a prime-time audience of millions. And it came as Americans appear more willing to embrace a bolder, tougher approach to foreign policy. VOA producer Katherine Gypson and reporter Jeff Seldin have this report from Washington.
Video

Video Authorities Allege LA Fashion Industry-Cartel Ties

U.S. officials say they have broken up crime rings that funneled tens of millions of dollars from Mexican drug cartels through fashion businesses in Los Angeles. Mike O'Sullivan reports that authorities announced nine arrests, as 1,000 law enforcement agents fanned out through the city on Wednesday.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid