Indelible: The Platinum Photographs of Larry McNeil and Will Wilson

June 07, 2014–January 05, 2015
Washington, DC

By the end of the 19th century, the platinum print process was of primary importance to art photographers—valued for its permanence, wide tonal variation, and “fuzzy” aesthetic. Photographers such as Edward S. Curtis, Gertrude Käsebier, and Joseph Keiley famously printed their photographs of North American Indians on platinum paper, using the prints’ highly romanticizing softness to represent the “Vanishing Race.”

Larry McNeil (Tlingit/Nisgaá) and Will Wilson (Diné/Bilagaana) challenge this visual ideology. McNeil uses the platinum process to topple expectations of what constitutes the Native portrait and, more generally, Western conceptions of portraiture. Wilson creates portraits of “today’s Indians” on metal plates, then digitizes the plates, makes large-scale digital negatives from the scanned images, and uses historic printing processes in a wet darkroom—calling attention to the manufactured nature of all photographic images.

Cerámica de los Ancestros: Central America‚Äôs Past Revealed

March 29, 2013–February 15, 2015
Washington, DC

This bilingual (English/Spanish) exhibition illuminates Central America’s diverse and dynamic ancestral heritage with a selection of more than 160 objects. For thousands of years, Central America has been home to vibrant civilizations, each with unique, sophisticated ways of life, value systems, and arts. The ceramics these peoples left behind, combined with recent archaeological discoveries, help tell the stories of these dynamic cultures and their achievements. Cerámica de los Ancestros examines seven regions representing distinct Central American cultural areas that are today part of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. Spanning the period from 1000 BC to the present, the ceramics featured, selected from the museum’s collection of more than 12,000 pieces from the region, are augmented with significant examples of work in gold, jade, shell, and stone. These objects illustrate the richness, complexity, and dynamic qualities of the Central American civilizations that were connected to peoples in South America, Mesoamerica, and the Caribbean through social and trade networks sharing knowledge, technology, artworks, and systems of status and political organization. This exhibition is a collaboration of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian and the Smithsonian Latino Center.

Gail Tremblay (Onondaga/Mi'kmaq, b. 1945), Strawberry and Chocolate (detail), 2000. 16mm film and fullcoat, height 229 cm. Photo by Ernest Amoroso, NMAI. (25/7273)

Our Lives: Contemporary Life and Identities

September 21, 2004–July 06, 2015
Washington, DC

Our Lives reveals how residents of eight Native communities live in the 21st century. Through the stories of the Campo Band of Kumeyaay Indians (California, USA), urban Indian community of Chicago (Illinois, USA), Yakama Nation (Washington State, USA), Igloolik (Nunavut, Canada), Kahnawake (Quebec, Canada), Saint-Laurent Metis (Manitoba, Canada), Kalinago (Carib Territory, Dominica), and Pamunkey Tribe (Virginia, USA), visitors learn about the deliberate and often difficult choices indigenous people make in order to survive economically, save their languages from extinction, preserve their cultural integrity, and keep their traditional arts alive.

The main section of Our Lives centers on various layers of identity. For Native people, identity—who you are, how you dress, what you think, where you fit in, and how you see yourself in the world—has been shaped by language, place, community membership, social and political consciousness, and customs and beliefs. But Native identity has also been influenced by a legacy of legal policies that have sought to determine who is Indian and who is not. The issue of Native identity continues to resonate today, as Native people across the Americas seek to claim the future on their own terms.

Lakota model baby carrier with porcupine-quill embroidery (detail), North or South Dakota, ca. 1880. Photo by Walter Larrimore, NMAI. (12/2308)

Our Universes: Traditional Knowledge Shapes Our World

Washington, DC

Our Universes focuses on indigenous cosmologies—worldviews and philosophies related to the creation and order of the universe—and the spiritual relationship between humankind and the natural world. Organized around the solar year, the exhibition introduces visitors to indigenous peoples from across the Western Hemisphere who continue to express the wisdom of their ancestors in celebration, language, art, spirituality, and daily life.

The community galleries feature eight cultural philosophies—those of the Pueblo of Santa Clara (Espanola, New Mexico, USA), Anishinaabe (Hollow Water and Sagkeeng Bands, Manitoba, Canada), Lakota (Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota, USA), Quechua (Communidad de Phaqchanta, Cusco, Peru), Hupa (Hoopa Valley, California, USA), Q'eq'chi' Maya (Cobán, Guatemala), Mapuche (Temuco, Chile), and Yup'ik (Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, Alaska, USA). The design of these galleries reflects each community's interpretation of the order of the world.The exhibition also highlights the Denver (Colorado) March Powwow, the North American Indigenous Games, and the Day of the Dead as seasonal celebrations that bring Native peoples together.

Nanticoke schoolboys playing "bear in ring" (detail), Delaware, ca. 1911. Boy facing the camera is Roosevelt Perkins. Photo by Frank G. Speck. (N01304)

Return to a Native Place: Algonquian Peoples of the Chesapeake

Washington, DC

Meet the Native peoples of the Chesapeake Bay region–what is now Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and Delaware–through photographs, maps, ceremonial and everyday objects, and interactives. This compact exhibition educates visitors on the continued Native presence in the region, and provides an overview of the history and events from the 1600s to the present that have impacted the lives of the Nanticoke, Powhatan, and Piscataway tribes. The exhibition was curated by Gabrielle Tayac, Ph.D. (Piscataway)

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