At the Met, Protest and Poetry About Water

At the Met, Protest and Poetry About Water

In a two-minute fix video called “River (Enhydris)” in the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, you can see a drone shot of a crowded snow-covered landscape. Each of its members holds a vertical mirror panel. Together, at the signal, they place the panel horizontally on their heads, with the reflective side facing the sky, and start the procession. At first, it’s loose, well pooled and swirling. Then it tightens to the flow of light, speeds up and swirls like a whirlpool.

The landscape is a stretch of grasslands in the Standing Rocksoo Reserve, which straddles the border between North Dakota and South Dakota. The shooting time was December 2016. The procession, devised by two Native American artists, Cannupa Hanska Luger and Rory Wakemup, was a combination of protest and protection.

This was done by some of the hundreds of demonstrators who came as “water guardians” with the aim of canceling the U.S. government’s plan to install a major oil pipeline near BlackRock. I was there. It will certainly desecrate the graveyard of its ancestors. The mirrored panel was a shield designed to protect the protector from the resistance encountered by the protector and allow the attacker to look at himself.

This video is one of the 40 works that make up “Water Memories,” a poetic faceted pocket-sized show about water materials and their iconic role in Native American life. Organized by Purépecha, Associate Curator of Native American Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it combines traditional objects from the permanent collection with modern and contemporary rentals, including those by non-native artists.

A fleet of 19th-century canoe models, such as toys originating from the northwest coast to the northeastern woodlands, established a range on both sides of the show, suggesting the role of water as a medium for commercial and cultural networks. I am. Native American boats, the equivalent of long-distance trucks, carried raw materials and handmade trade products (baskets, ceramics, luxury beadwork) up and down on the riverside highways now known as North America.

He also shared ideas about values ​​and governance, past and future, and life in this world. Wisconsin-born Ho-Chunk artist Truman T. Rowe (1944-2019) is an international water travel entrepreneur in the 1993 Feather Canoe, an openwork boat filled with white feathers made of willow branches. I paid tribute to the nature. Suspended from the ceiling and illuminated from the inside, it casts shadow and light patches on the gallery floor.

The work, which was acquired by Met last year, was beautiful and seemed to have personal implications for Rowe, a contemporary art curator at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC. Must be a canoe. Canoe wherever there is water. It puts me in a completely different state of mind and provides everything I need to be. “

A large and angry triptych in 1989, called “Beach Ownership” by Fritz Sholder (1937-2005), a descendant of a quarter of the Luiseño tribe, who has been admired and cursed. In the background of, you can see the belt of the sea. For his popular “India” portrait. (He argued that both critical reactions were as cool as he was. He just wanted people to keep watching.)

In contrast, the elements of water are all covered in “Water Memory” by Cara Romero (Chemehuevi). This is a 2015 large format photo of a Pueblo corn dancer dressed in a ceremonial costume performing underwater, as if immersed in a mysterious realm of beauty and danger. And fall, inseparable.

The photos of Jones are located near some of the photos by German-born American cartographer Henry P. Bosse (1844-1893). Bosse photographed a section of the Mississippi River, including areas where Native Americans were forcibly taken away by being hired by the United States Army Corps of Engineers (though he may not have noticed this). He worked essentially as an art project in his work, producing hundreds of carefully constructed azure shades over a decade. (8 are displayed). Of course, the Army’s interest in this project was quite different. Its job was to turn the river into a government-controlled transportation route, which required photographic data.

The pictures of Jones’ Marker Tree respect the means of guidance. Bosse’s sky and water images were a tool of top-down control, whatever his intentions, and were now valuable as documents that the tribal terrain disappeared.

There is a story in the exhibition of dozens of cute glass whale oil lamps. For Native Americans in the coastal areas, whaling has long been a form of self-sufficient hunting (or harvesting for whales washed ashore). Among white American settlers, whaling in the early 19th century was a huge business, a booming and violent company. Whale oil was in enthusiastic demand as a fuel and lubricant, and ambergris was a by-product of the animal’s digestive process and was in demand as a perfume fixative.

The 2021 ceramic sculpture by Sinecock artist Courtney M. Leonard tells this history. With tribal land on the eastern tip of what is now Long Island, Sinecock has historically been a community of marine harvesters. The sculpture of Leonard, a haunted mountain in the form of hollow clay that resembles the teeth of a sperm whale, is a tribute to its history. But it is also a monument to the tragic and ongoing ecological consequences of industrial-scale whaling in the 19th century.

Near this graceful piece, Nobby took one of the historic graceful notes of her exhibition in the form of a small 1929 painting called “Reaching Wave” by American Modernist Sardub (1880-1946). Make it stand out with. Dove spent the last 20 years of his life on Long Island with his wife painter Helen Torr. And they were enthusiastic watermen, and spent most of their time on boats. The incredibly delicate paintings of pigeons date back to those years.

There are other protracted highlights. Pre-1850 miniature birch bark canoes are full of bird quill pens, silk sails and small carved fish and are the prey of the day. 1970s denim jeans jacket with bright red Thunderbird embroidered. A long-standing emblem of indigenous peoples’ activities. Created by Maria Martinez (1887-1980), the great potter of San Ildefonso Pueblo, the ceramic bowl is depicted in the swirling image of the snake god Avagne of Tewapueblo, the guardian of water.

Avanyu returns to a standing rock video that anchors the current time travel show. Last May, Nobby invited members of the local Native American community to attend a Mirror Shield workshop at Met. It was led by Ruger, who also posted a brief instructional video online. The idea of ​​the shield was inspired by news photos of a Ukrainian woman holding a mirror in the riot police during a 2013 riot police demonstration. Improves humanity and reduces violence, “said Nick Estates (Kul Wicasa / Lower Brule Sioux Tribe), one of the members of the indigenous community who wrote his personal reaction to the show’s art in the form of wall labels. I am writing.

All shields manufactured at the workshop will be shipped to water guardians after the show. Until then, some are adjacent to the entrance to the Met Gallery, framing beyond art and history, reflecting us as we approach the show in a fragmented, multi-angle way to move water and memory. doing.

Memories of water

Until April 2, 2023, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fifth Avenue, (212) 535-7710,


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