December 24, 2009

Migrations at the Pequot Museum

Native American Art: A New Direction

"Migrations" At Pequot Museum

By Roger Catlin
Contemporary Native American artists are often good about reflecting their heritage and traditions in their work. But being part of modern culture and growing up in the age of television instead of the iron horse means including the totems of commercial culture permeating the society as well.

Managing this dichotomy in an engaging way results in a striking show at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center. In the big gallery that serves as the spill-out era from the rest of the museum, "Migrations: New Directions in Native American Art" shows the creativity of a half-dozen artists mostly from the West in a show organized by the University of New Mexico Art Museum, in Albuquerque, in association with the Tamarind Institute there.

Even school groups rushing from the museum to the cafeteria might pause to see the 8-foot pile of reclaimed wool blankets by Marie Watt called "Almanac." It's the soft, folded totem of a symbol so fraught with meaning in Native culture, from its woven uses in the tribe to tourist offerings to smallpox-infested gifts from genocidal European traders.

Steven Deo, too, stops the eye with his sculptures with simple messages, from figures made of puzzle pieces to life-size forms of children who are made entirely of green plastic soldiers and who happen to be playing with war toys and tanks. In "Child's Play," he asks whether anyone should be surprised that young people literally made from war pieces would want to play war.
Comment:  Sounds like an interesting show. But the "New Directions" title seems misleading since Natives have been doing nontraditional art for decades.

I've reported on similar exhibits before. For example, see Quick-to-See Smith's Art Exhibit and Remix Riddled with Clichés?

For more on the subject, see What Counts as "Indian Art"?

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