June 14, 2012

"Thawing the Frozen Indian"

Adrienne Keene reports on a museum exhibit in her Native Appropriations blog:

Thawing the Frozen Indian: Brown University's new anthro exhibitThe exhibit came out of a class (that I wish they offered at my school!) called "Thawing the Frozen Indian: Native American Museum representations," and they had a panel that gave the history and rationale for the exhibit:

The panel reads:From cigar store Indians to reality TV, American popular culture has reflected, created, and perpetuated stereotypical representations of Native Americans. Museums have helped legitimize and solidify these stereotypes, freezing American Indians in a primitive, ahistorical past. As part of the class "Thawing the Frozen Indian: Native American Museum Representations," we have created an exhibit about the (mis) representation of Native Americans both inside and outside of museums. This exhibit is confronting the complex, and often painful, history of cultural appropriation in order to foster conversation. As part of the process, we created a Facebook page and crowd-sourced comments from individuals who identify as Native American.

We have organized our research into three categories: racist stereotypes, mass-produced cultural appropriations, and contemporary Native art. In this last and final section we provide examples of the "unfrozen Indian," art that combines the tradition and modern in Native American life today.
If I were to design an exhibit, this would be it. I loved every part--the discussions of cultural appropriation, stereotypes, mascots, advertising, etc--but also the awesome contemporary art from artists like Teri Greeves. Overall, I was in nerd heaven the entire time. It was kinda like my blog, in museum format. Which was so cool.
And:The captions on the cases all had Facebook comments printed on them, which provided a nice interactive element and connected the museum to the "real world."

I also loved that they had glass pens to allow visitors to add their thoughts--directly on the cases themselves!
Comment:  I've seen exhibits about Native stereotypes and cultural appropriations before. Usually they start with paintings, dime novels, and Wild West shows from the 19th century. They end with mascots, lunch boxes, and Land O' Lakes butter from a few decades ago.

Perhaps because it's student-curated, this exhibit seems more up-to-date. The students are familiar with the Native Appropriations blog; they quoted Keene and included the Urban Outfitters and Mariah Watchman controversies.

They also used comments from Facebook, which is an approach I haven't seen used before. As those of us who read and write blogs know, some of the best insights come from online exchanges.

Anyway, it sounds like a good exhibit, and perhaps a sign of things to come. Namely, more exhibits from non-professionals that engage people with today's issues in today's voices.

For more on museum exhibits, see Truth vs. Twilight and NMAI Plans "Complete Reinstallation."

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