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Sandra Hale Schulman
Special to Indian Country Today

Scholar, author and former director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian-New York, Patricia Marroquin Norby, Purépecha, has been named the museum’s inaugural associate curator of Native American art.

Norby’s focus will be work on the Met’s collection development and exhibition programming that focuses on Native arts. Her other goal is outreach to Indigenous communities, scholars, artists and audiences.

Joining the staff of the American Wing on Sept. 14, Norby holds a doctorate in American Studies from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, with a specialization in Native American art history and visual culture. She also earned a master of fine arts degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in printmaking and photography.

"I am deeply honored to join with American Indian and Indigenous artists and communities in advancing our diverse experiences and voices in the Met's exhibitions, collections and programs," Norby said in a release. 

Bowcase and quiver, Nex Perce, 1870, Diker Collection (Photo courtesy of the Met)

Met Director Max Hollein said he was excited to welcome Norby after a "long and competitive search" for the museum's first full-time curator in Native American art.

"Dr. Norby, an award-winning scholar of Native American art history and visual culture, is also an experienced museum professional, and we look forward to supporting her scholarship and programmatic collaborations with colleagues across the Met, as well as with Indigenous communities throughout the region and continent for our diverse international audiences," he said.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has been playing catchup with its Native exhibits and collections.

A major gift from Charles and Valerie Diker in 2017 of 91 works of Native American art — masterworks from the collection they assembled over more than four decades, and another 20 works already given during the past two decades — have solidified its collection base. 

Man's coat, 1820 Innu, Diker Collection (Photo courtesy of the Met)

Long considered to be the most significant holdings of historical Native American art in private hands, the Diker collection has sculpture from British Columbia and Alaska, California baskets, pottery from Southwest pueblos, Plains drawings and regalia, and rare accessories from the eastern Woodlands. An exhibit of these items took place in 2018.

The collection "laid the groundwork for the museum’s new Native arts program, which Patricia will shape and lead at this transformational moment,” said Sylvia Yount, assistant curator of American decorative arts.

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To become more contemporary, the Met commissioned Kent Monkman, Cree, to create two monumental paintings for its Great Hall in fall 2019. Monkman’s controversial paintings done in classical style but with updated scenarios make powerful statements on complicated Native history.

"Welcoming the Newcomers," Kent Monkman commission for the Met

The Met hosted an exhibit in 2015, "The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky," that connected historical works with more contemporary art from photographer Wendy Red Star, painter Brad Kahlhamer and videographer Dana Claxton.

“I am delighted with this opportunity to return to my fine-art roots,” Norby said. “Historical and contemporary Native American art embodies and confronts the environmental, religious and economic disruptions that Indigenous communities have so powerfully negotiated — and still negotiate — through a balance of beauty, tradition and innovation."

The museum is in a time of "significant evolution," said Norby, adding Hollein, Yount and Met President and CEO Daniel Weiss are committed to supporting meaningful systematic change.

"I look forward to being part of this critical shift in the presentation of Native American art," she said.

Norby has an upcoming book called "Water, Bones, and Bombs," which examines 20th century Southwest art production and environmental conflicts among Native American, Hispano and White communities in the northern Rio Grande Valley.

In this new curatorial role at the Met, Norby will work directly with Yount and other colleagues on collection development and exhibition programming that places Native arts in focus and in dialogue with culturally diverse exhibits. 

She will also oversee creating long-term partnerships with Indigenous American communities, scholars, artists and audiences in the region and across the continent.

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Sandra Hale Schulman, Cherokee, has been writing about Native issues since 1994. She is an author of four books, has contributed to shows at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, The Grammy Museum, The Queens Museum, and has produced three films on Native musicians.

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