The National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) houses one of the world’s great cultural resources, with collections representing the Native peoples of the Americas from their earliest history to the present day. Infinity of Nations presents more than two hundred of these works chosen from nearly seven hundred objects of cultural, historical, and aesthetic importance on view at the museum’s George Gustav Heye Center in New York. The objects shown here include an exquisite Olmec jade head that dates to between 900 and 600 BC; a superb Moche–Huari tunic (AD 700 to 900); an unparalleled Mexica (Aztec) sculpture of a maize goddess (ca. AD 1500); an exceptionally rare late-18th-century Anishnaabe man’s outfit, and a disquieting sculpture titled Sleeping Man by contemporary artist Bob Hauzous (Warm Springs Chiricahua Apache).
In a departure for the museum, Infinity of Nations is organized geographically. Central to the exhibition are fifty objects highlighted within the regional sections, with brief descriptions written by an impressive new generation of Native scholars and community knowledge-keepers. Many of these iconic objects, like the Diné (Navajo) first phase chief blanket, speak to a people’s history and culture at a certain point in time. Several highlighted objects are associated with prominent Native individuals. Still others, like the pottery plate and candleholders from the mission church at the ancestral A:shiwi (Zuni) village of Hawikku, represent encounters between Natives and non-Natives or moments pivotal in Native history.
Ten singular examples serve as regional focal points. The more detailed expositions of these objects, including a magnificent Apsáalooke (Crow) warrior’s exploit robe and an impressive Maya limestone bas-relief depicting a ball player, further demonstrate the degree to which Native cultures were interconnected long before European peoples arrived in the Americas, and how Native peoples and Europeans together made more recent history.
The conclusion of Infinity of Nations looks at contemporary Native art as a medium for exploring Native experiences and ideas. Throughout, the exhibition illustrates how objects in the museum’s collections can serve as points of entry to understanding other cultures and times.