Saturday, August 20, 2005

A New Dawn for Museums of Native American Art

PHOENIX - Decorated with spirals and migration symbols, Nathan Begay's multicolored jar resembles an ancient assemblage of shards. But it's actually a synthesis of historical and modern: Mr. Begay, a 46-year-old artist of Hopi and Navajo descent, created it five years ago.

Its inclusion with some 2,000 other objects in the Heard Museum's new exhibition of its permanent collection here reflects a sweeping change in the way museums are presenting Native American art. Rather than focusing on an ethnographic past, they are celebrating the full continuum of such art, juxtaposing contemporary pieces with historical ones and integrating native voices - often first-person narratives - into explanatory text and media.

From the Heard, to the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art in Indianapolis, to the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, museums with substantial Native American collections are aggressively pursuing new work.