Indian Halloween at NMAI

On Saturday, the Coatlicue Theater Company performed in the atrium space of the museum, in celebration of The Day of the Dead. From my understanding, they had several performances. I caught a fifteen minute performance, where Natives danced barefoot to the beat of two drums, with decorated in musical objects and elaborate masks. I wondered if their movement was choreographed, but after several minutes I realized the outer circle of people followed the movements of three leaders in the center. The sound was the most powerful aspect of the performance; the vibrations from the drums, chanting, and maracas echoed off the high ceilings. It was the first time I experienced the energy of a pow wow in person. This group of cultural activists/performers also created a participatory experience for visitors, inviting the crowd to join them in a dance. Business men and women, tourists and children moved around the exhibition space with joined hands. This performative, personal interaction with visitors expressed traditions and practices of the Native culture in ways a static exhibition could not.

vancj574ill

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4 responses to “Indian Halloween at NMAI

  1. It would be interesting to see how museums could incorporate more events like this into their programs. Also, it could be a good idea to see if museums like NMAI could expand past their physical site in the future to reach out to the communities around them.

  2. I question the effectiveness of such a production. I am not questioning the act of “sharing” this dance, but when it is recreated in a museum, is the dance not rendered a form of display? This act of displaying culture, though live and invoking participation, is to me, presenting culture as a from of entertainment.

  3. I really appreciate the comment above; I did not consider the performance-based exhibition from a critical perspective. I can argue that this particular performance at the NMAI was effective because the audience was engaged. Personally, I felt I learned something about the Native American culture by experiencing The Day of the Dead. In an instant, I understood the seriousness of the traditional dance, and the important role of decorative art objects functioning as musical instruments in performance.
    If you are speaking of culture as a spectacle, as a form of entertainment, I can assure you that the authenticity of the Native American performance group in the environment of the museum was seen as more educational and experiential.

  4. well i agree with Jill there, that this dance is an act of religion and not entertainment (entertainment will be define as amusement for public only)

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