I recently visited the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C. for the first time. My favorite parts were the depictions of each tribe’s community curators. I’d heard before going that this museum does a great job of portraying Native American culture and history from the perspective of Native Americans themselves instead of from the perspective of outside observers, as has so often been the case. It reminded me a bit of one of the small town museums I visited in Mexico in 2006 that was part of the Union of Community Museums of Oaxaca. One historic photograph on display stood out in particular. It depicted a handful of local residents in a large city, perhaps with rugs in hand, accompanied by a white woman. The caption was an inversion of what one would typically see in a different setting. Instead of naming the white woman and representing her as the discoverer of the local artisans, it named the locals and described how they took their arts out into the world, accompanied by a nameless white woman. I loved it!
The community curator profiles at the Museum of the American Indian give some insight into how the exhibits came together, and did a nice job of personalizing the individual tribes. It must have been hard to figure out which people, and tribes, to feature in such a high-profile space.
I was also intrigued by the children’s zone in the museum. I love that the interactive features shown below teach children to understand Native Americans as multifaceted members of contemporary society by showing them in a variety of clothing styles that the viewers can mix and match. From what I saw they were very popular exhibits with the kids! On the other hand, turning Native youth into objects for viewers to play with made me a little uncomfortable.