Category Archives: native

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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Identity Museum – MOCA

The Museum of Chinese in America

The Museum of Chinese in America

I recently visited the newly re-opened MOCA–Museum of Chinese in America.  Drawn partially, I’ll admit, by the museum’s architect, Maya Lin, I was also interested in seeing what, if any new design ideas on how to present this history–“Chinese in America”–an example of these unique groups building museums to tell specific cultural identity stories.  Firstly, I find the title of this museum interesting–“Museum of Chinese in America,”  not “Museum of the History of Chinese Americans” or “Museum of American Chinese,” but “Museum of Chinese in America.”  The words “Chinese in America” suggest to me a purposeful separation of “Chinese” and “America” and does not imply overlap or inclusion.  Perhaps that is part of the point, that for most of the history of Chinese immigrating to the U.S. our culture separated and labeled them as “Chinese” and not “American.” I thought that this was particularly relevant to our class conversation about the growing presence of such group and identity-specific museums.  I have to question, who is the audience?  Throughout my visit I felt as though the museum made no effort to connect this “Chinese” experience in America to any other immigrant group (other than a brief commentary on the Japanese interment during WWII).  If museums keep telling these specific stories and do not connect them out to a larger point or group, aren’t they missing part of the point of the very history they are trying to present?  Regardless, some of the objects on display in the museum, e.g. a candy box for “Fu Manchus” or a copy of “The Good Earth,” were great tools that could speak about racism without use of many words.  I wish the current section, instead of having a wall of famous Asian Americans–Maya Lin, Yo Yo Ma, Ang Lee, they might have discussed current immigration or racial issues because this story is still ongoing–just because we have museums that discuss these issues historically, does not mean they are not still alive and relevant today.

kmcaleer