Wednesday 5 October 2011

Day 185: Museum of Contemporary Native Arts

The sculpture garden, with Antonia at the far right looking like a sculpture!
 Blogging is back!  So, first of all what is Santa Fe like.  Well, very pretty.  I have never seen so many adobe houses altogether in one place.  The town centre is more like a European town with a central park, shops full of expensive clothes that actually came from France and roof terrace cafes.  There is a real public life here with people just hanging around in the centre.  Unfortunately, there is a real public life on the more outlying streets as well.  During the week I've been here on my own, I've been subjected to more honking by cars, catcalls and more or less indecent approaches by random men than ever in my life.  Including one really bad incident, where I was threatening the guy with the police before he backed off.  What is wrong with these people?!  I thought I was safe now that I'm in my 40s and have unusually white hair. Obviously, all this will die down a bit with Mike here.

Today we went to the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, which is contemporary art made by members of American Indian tribes (that explanation might be necessary for any non-Americans out there).  We all really enjoyed the exhibitions which were extremely varied, with one installation, galleries of painting and photography, a small sculpture garden, and a series of films.  I think we perhaps enjoyed these the most, though a lot of the rest was very good as well.  A lot of the art on display is not only by Native Americans but addresses things that are central to the Native American experience.  A large chunk of that has to do with the fact that, non only did the Indian tribes lose their battles and their land against the United States and European Americans, but they are expected to identify as US citizens.  This unfortunately includes a presentation of US history and culture in which they're depicted to themselves as outsiders, and expected to celebrate their own defeat.  America as a state, conversely has a need to celebrate its history that we don't see so much in Europe. 

One of the most interesting movies was a documentary, about a really sad standoff between Native and Italian Americans over the Columbus day parade in Denver.  Columbus day is a national holiday, but the whole figure of Columbus is symbolic of the start of the catastrophe to many Native Americans. They don't really think he's a reason to party (and I have to say that, all other considerations aside, his behaviour towards the people he found in the Caribbean was,... well, words fail me).  On the other hand, the Italian Americans, at least in this film, seem to have taken Columbus to their hearts.  The Columbus Day parade allows them to celebrate their rather difficult integration into US society, and to see their contributions as important right from the start, I guess.  It means a lot to some of them.  So, there is a big stand-off in the middle of the street.  There are also, as you can imagine, people of mixed ancestry coming down on various sides, and people of non-mixed ancestry not being on the side of the majority of their group.  Quite a mess. 

I also like the huge painting that was like a map of the US with incidents from American history that aren't so worthy of celebration either.  The installation was on a different theme and was a room with a central table piled high with donuts, cakes, etc.  The whole thing was made to look like solid sugar and it was called the Last Supper.  This is a reference to the dietary problems that seem to be affecting American society as a whole, but I guess each group has a slightly different take on it.

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