I recently attended the Museum of Indian Art and Culture on Museum Hill in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Indian art exhibit, which features over 100 objects by 69 known artists from the museum’s collections as well as others borrowed from collectors and artists, is an impressive presentation of work by a great selection of Native artisans. It is pure ‘Culture Jamming.’ It is sharing, borrowing, appropriation and reappropriation, and it is above all, resisting the tide of history and saying “We are still here, so deal with it.”
Many of the pieces at MIAC are outright funny as well as nerdy, funky, touching, sentimental, nostalgic, powerful and strong. The Indian art exhibit, according to curator Valerie Verzuh, “is a journey between past, present and future of Indigenous artistic expressions.”
Verzuh says her main organizing concept is “self-definition…as a form of protest and resistance against loss of homeland, the forces of acculturation and cultural appropriation. The social and political commentary is sometimes subtle, sometimes overt, and often paired with humor and satire.”
Some of the pieces you see at this Indian art exhibit have an interesting layout. They may be presented next to a powerful historic piece (don’t say ‘artifact’) and in comparison, a viewer may say the modern piece in question might even come across as almost disposable in comparison to the traditional piece.
But that is the idea that is sometimes lost over the years. Even the old one was disposable, repaired, remade and replaced. We give it more power because it survived and ended up in a museum, yet they can be found in people’s homes, both Natives and collectors.
The disposable nature of the modern piece is in my view, simply because today’s pop culture is so readily disposable, media presents us with new a new “icon” every new TV season and marketing cycle. The Indian-ness of the piece, the indigeneity of it makes it worthy of inclusion, debate and a place in the timeline of posterity.
Depending on your generational status, position or attitude, you will notice or be drawn to certain pieces right away. The modern pop culture or ‘Rez Pop Art’ pieces are often side by side, or in thematic cases next to each other, so you can go from the recent past to the right now. I went looking for the modern and pop art, so that I barely noticed the older, even ancient pieces. Having seen many Museum Shows, these pieces of art, craft and culture, some may call artifacts, register peripherally so you recognize what they are in a general sense (a plains feather headdress) and continue on visually, knowing you can come back for specifics or details.
Of course collectors who value their collections and have influence in the marketplace may have opinions on the validity or the value. Savvy modern collectors will also engage in the “new stuff.” Traditionalist native artisans and craftspeople of course may have opinions of the “right way of doing things” but if Sonny or Sissy made it, they will smile, enjoy it and display it.
As Verzuh points out, “it is very much a family thing.” MIAC being part of the Museum of New Mexico family and in the middle of Pueblo country and the greater southwest that includes the Navajo and Apache and other tribal nations, all these arts and crafts are passed down. Also passed along are work habits, trade secrets, passion, humor and family stories or clan legends.
The Pueblo Revolt, the event that brings together the European Invasion and the Native Resistance which results in today’s co-existing societies, is given prominence as storytelling and history. The Plains culture of the buffalo is represented as are dinosaurs. There is probably a pot for every millennia. The Southwest being an exotic locale and destination of tourists of course, gets you pointed social commentary and satire on the meeting of the cultures.
As we all know today, contemporary Native fashions is taking its rightful place by shoving aside cheap imitations and more expensive, often uncredited, “inspirations”. So the traditional wearable art of the old cultures stands strong right next to pow wow regalia and street gear. All the revered symbols and icons such as mother corn the life giver and teacher are here. And of course, there are the controversial sports mascots.
There are videos, mixed media, digital photos and prints, stone, clay, metal, leather and feathers at this Indian art exhibit. Anything that can be painted or beaded, from Star Wars to Sponge Bob, from Coyote to Bingo, from weavings to comics, jewelry, sashes, belts, moccasins, sneakers and bags. All items at this Indian art exhibit collection make a statement. Starting with “Wow” and ending with “Still Here, init.”
The Indian art exhibit “Into the Future: Culture Power in Native American Art” at Museum of Indian Art and Culture on Museum Hill in Santa Fe, New Mexico is up until October 22, 2017. Featuring over 100 objects by 69 known artists from the museum’s collections as well as others borrowed from collectors and artists.
MIAC also presents “A New Century: The Life and Legacy of Cherokee Artist and Educator Lloyd "Kiva" New” until December 30, 2016. Also “Oblique Views: Archaeology, Photography, and Time,” side by side photo images of the same archaeological sites, taken in color in 2008 by Adriel Heisey, next to black and white prints by Charles and Anne Lindbergh photographed in 1929. The exhibit runs through May 7, 2017.