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A provocative exhibit at NYC’s Met Museum takes a new point of view

Perhaps the most amazing item on display at the “Water Memories” now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is a denim jacket. It’s a Wrangler knock-off with a red felt Thunderbird on the back and a line of blue beads along the sleeves and waist.

Yet the exhibition focuses on the significance of water to Native American tribal countries and how it is portrayed in their art. How about a jacket?

“The Thunderbird is a sacred statue to the people of Anishinabe,” said Patricia Norby Marroquin, curator of the exhibition. “It actually represents a thunder cloud.”

Bidding represents a drop of water, he said. Thunderbird and bidding were added by then-19-year-old Rick St. Germain and his mother Saxon St. Germain from The Lake Court Oriless Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians in Wisconsin.

Rick St. Germain wore the jacket when he took part in the Native American occupation of Wisconsin’s Winter Dam in the early 1970s. Norby saw the jacket in a small Midwestern museum and knew he needed it at the exhibition, as he wanted to represent different generations of Native Americans and test how their art speaks to their activism around the water.

Owned by Rick St. Germain, this denim jacket represents lightning clouds - and energy as well.  It was put on display by the Chippewa Valley Museum.

Anna-Mary Kellen / Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Owned by Rick St. Germain, this denim jacket represents lightning clouds – and energy as well. It was put on display by the Chippewa Valley Museum.

Norby is Purépecha; His family is from Pueblo, Mexico. He is the first curator of the Museum of Native American Art and “Water Memories” is the first exhibition he has put together.

“I think so [the exhibit] Beautifully express your indigenous and environmental perspectives, ”said Sylvia Yont, curator in charge of the American branch of the museum, during a visit.

Just a few years ago, the museum merged Native American art with art from places like Africa, Southeast Asia and South America. But in 2017, Charles and Valerie Decker promised the museum important gifts, grants and loans from their collection. As a result, the museum has taken its Native American art back to where it always was, Yant says: The American Wing.

“Water Memories” is a companion to intricate beaded clothing and other objects in the “Art of Native America” ​​gallery. But “water memory” tells a story.

“As you go through the exhibition you will realize that what we are doing is creating a current, a flow of stories and memories,” Norby said.

The exhibition explores many uses of water – for fishing, for travel, for events, for play. But it also indicates how much political water. American power companies have built dams and flooded tribal lands; A photograph of Cara Romero shows two Native Americans drowning, “still stuck in the submerged landscape,” says the artist’s website. And a documentary-style video from Canupa Hanska Lugar shows a line holding their mirrored shields to the “water protectors” in the standing rock reservation. They glide across the snow to form a spiral – this represents a giant water snake.

Norby’s scholarship as an art historian is based on environmental activism, he said. His research focuses on the connection between agro-industry, fine industry and water rights in the Southwest. Taking a political approach may be new to Met, he said, but not to him.

“I want people to go with the understanding that we all have a role to play in protecting freshwater resources,” Norby said. “We all have a close relationship with water and we would not survive without fresh water.”

Everything is connected to water in one way or another – finely crafted glass lamps once held oil from whales; The intricate baskets were made by softening the tubes in the water. But the exhibition is in an art museum, not an ethnography, so there are plenty of gorgeous, provocative objects, such as Truman T. Like a canoe frame filled with low feathers; A triptych of a beach landscape with an evil, dark angel by Fritz Scholder; And a pile that looks like shiny, hollow, whale teeth.

That piece by Shinekak artist Courtney M. Leonard is one of Norby’s favorites, because of how deeply personal it is. And she likes the aesthetics of those teeth.

“They shine. They’re beautiful. They’re pearly. Because of their smooth texture you almost want to reach out and touch them,” he said. Then he laughed. “But we highly recommend that people don’t do that in museums here.”

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The painting "Occupy the beach" Whale teeth are called looms on a glossy pile, by Fritz Scholder "Beach Logbook 22 / Break # 2" By Courtney M. Leonard.

Anna-Mary Kellen / Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Fritz Shoulder’s “Possession on the Beach” painting looms over a glossy pile of whale teeth, known as Courtney M. Leonard’s “Breach Logbook 22 | BREACH # 2”

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