The National Museum of the American Indian, at Bowling Green in the Alexander Hamilton Custom House, is undergoing a transformation. For many years, exhibitions centered on the vast amount of Native American artifacts that were collected more than a century ago by George Gustav Heye who, like many others, saw a complex civilization disappearing as America’s ‘Manifest Destiny’ bulldozed its way across the country.
Mr. Heye was born in 1874, and while supervising railroad construction in Arizona in 1897, he acquired a Navajo deerskin shirt, his first artifact. Over the next few decades he accumulated about a million artifacts, and in 1922 opened a museum displaying his vast collection of American Indian along with a collection of Alaskan Native artifacts he had purchased years earlier. In 1994, the Smithsonian Institution opened the Heye Center of the National Museum of the American Indian. Mr. Heye died in 1957.
The museum, in addition to continuing to display Native American artifacts, has been presenting contemporary works of Native Americans working in traditional and new media and in some cases, combining the two.
The current Show, “Transformer: Native Art in Light and Sound” features just that: 10 artists employing a variety of electrified media, including light, digital projection, and innovative sound technology to provide thought-provoking, unforgettable experiences for the digital age. This show runs through the end of the 2018.
Earlier this month, a new installation associated with the Transformer exhibit was created by a trans-disciplinary art collective, ITWЙ Collective, titled “Manifestipi.” It is a series of tipis, the most familiar icon of the Plains Indians. Not traditional tipis made from animal hides, but eight-foot-high Plexiglas tipis, five in all, illuminated in neon hues of pink, blue, green and yellow that change throughout the day.
Arranged in a darkened room on the lower level of the museum, the tipis are placed as if in an encampment many years ago and with a background of ghostly soundscapes and quick-paced video projections of Native imagery.
Sйbastien Aubin (Cree/Mйtis), Kevin Lee Burton (Swampy Cree) and Caroline Monnet (Anishnabe/French) are the artists.
“This multisensory installation is a dynamic and immersive experience for the visitor, which the artists created to bring people together,” said Kathleen Ash-Milby (Dinй), museum associate curator. “It’s exciting to have this unconventional and thought-provoking work in New York City.”
“Manifestipi” opened Feb. 3, in the museum’s first-floor Diker Pavilion for Native Arts and Cultures and closes Sunday, March 25. Admission is free.
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