courtesy of ‘bhrome’
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian opened its doors this past weekend to a new exhibition, “A Song for the Horse Nation.” The exhibition, nestled on the third floor of the museum, tells the epic tale of the how the return of the horse to the Americas changed Native culture, from lifestyle to war to art and beyond. “For some Native peoples, the horse still is an essential part of daily life,” said exhibit curator Emil Her Many Horses (Ogala Lakota). “For others, the horse will always remain an element of our identity and our history. The Horse Nation continues to inspire, and Native artists continue to celebrate the horse in our songs, our stories, and our works of art.”
To walk the exhibit’s path is to walk side by side with the conjoined path of Native and horse. Though horses were introduced to the Native Americans relatively late in North American history—the early 1700s saw the initial widespread explosion of the horse from captured Spanish mounts in the southwest—the image of Indians astride these graceful animals is one that is common to modern Americans. The “Horse Nation” quickly entwined themselves with Native communities, forever altering tribal culture and the Indian way of life.
The Smithsonian’s exhibit seeks to give us a view into that not-so-distant past. But it’s more than just a simply history lesson: subtly but surely, “A Song for the Horse Nation” reveals how interwoven both horse and man became among 38 tribal communities from the Plains and Western United States. The horse was more than a beast of burden or a tool; the animal became a part of Native culture that still resonates among the people today. Continue reading
courtesy of ‘bhrome’
out of the earth / I sing for them
A Horse nation / I sing for them
out of the earth / I sing for them,
the animals / I sing for them.
~a song by the Teton Sioux
Emil Her Many Horses is, by first appearance, a quiet, unassuming gentleman. A museum specialist in the office of Museum Programs at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), he is responsible for the facility’s latest exhibition “A Song for the Horse Nation.” A member of the Ogala Lakota nation of South Dakota, his expertise on the Northern and Southern Plains cultures is well served and seen in the exhibit that opens to the public tomorrow.
NMAI’s latest offering is a touching and brilliant display of how the horse has deeply impacted and affected Native cultures since their introduction to the Americas in the 17th century. “The exhibit tells the history of the horse; that they were here once before, migrated to Europe, and returned as the horse we know today,” explained Her Many Horses. “They changed Native culture. The horse had a major impact on hunting, warfare, travel, spirituality. These were big changes.” Changes that extend beyond the European vision of the animal.
Seen as a beast of burden, a tool, a weapon, the horse was brought and used by European explorers and colonists early in America’s “New World” history. And their introduction, according to many Natives, was probably one of the biggest positive changes brought about by the white man.
Derek A. Bencomo, Hana Valley, First View from the Peaks and Valleys Series, 1997, milowood, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Fleur and Charles Bresler in honor of Kenneth R. Trapp, curator-in-charge of the Renwick Gallery (1995--2003); photo courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum
Some great stuff’s going on this month at the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum (SAAM) and the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). While there’s a ton of events and exhibits happening at both locations, I’ve highlighted some of the more interesting things you may want to check out. Got a free afternoon or in need of some weekend inspiration this month? Well, there’s something here for everyone.
Increasing revenue is the name of the game these days; even our free museums aren’t immune.
According to WaPo, the Smithsonian will be extending its hours into the evening during the summer. Tourists and residents alike can enjoy an extra two hours a day (until 7:30 p.m.) at the Natural Museum of American History, the National Museum of Natural History and the ever-popular National Air and Space Museum until Labor Day.
The Smithsonian has been challenged with cuts due to declining endowment revenue and is hoping the extra few hours will result in increased retail and donation streams.
Jolene Nenibah Yazzie (Navajo), "Beautiful Shield" 2006. Digital print. Courtesy of the artist.
Upstairs in the intimate Sealaska Gallery at the National Museum of the American Indian is a fascinating exhibition on the intersection between Native culture and a uniquely modern art form. “Comic Art Indigene,” now through May 31st, highlights over 35 artworks of various mediums from the earliest rock art and clay figurines through to classic comic strip panels. Containing images both humorous and provocative, it’s well worth a visit.
If you’re interested in the history of how traditional methods of storytelling evolved into using comic art as a means of Native expression, the beginning of the exhibit clearly outlines this process. I just urge you to make sure you move beyond that initial area to the back walls and pay careful attention to the incredible pieces by Diego Romero, Mateo Romero, Jolene Nenibah Yazzie, and Rose Bean Simpson. These artists collectively pack a powerful graphic suckerpunch.
Jolene Nenibah Yazzie (Navajo) was a skater girl in high school, and her childhood inspiration was Wonder Woman. Both facets are evident in her supersaturated color contrast and strong female images. I loved “Beautiful Shield” – reminding me of a bit of Patrick Nagel (though these women could kick Nagel’s to the curb!). If I could own one piece of artwork from the show, this would be it. Continue reading