Brian Vallo and Gaylord Torrence Tour Art of Native America
Nearly two months after the much anticipated opening of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Art of Native America, the Charles and Valerie Diker Collection, the exhibit continues to welcome new visitors and receive national and international media attention (examples include recent coverage in Forbes and the Guardian).
The first exhibit of Native American works in the museum’s American Wing, the 116-object installation spans 50 cultures and is pushing the dialog around collecting institutions and cultural heritage into new areas of inquiry.
IARC director, Brian Vallo, was one of several Native American advisors for the project, in large measure because of the 2016 launch of the IARC’s Common Guidelines. This set of standards and guiding practices for working with source communities was created by Native and non-Native museum professionals, cultural leaders, and artists. The Guidelines establish a resource for museums who are working in collaboration with communities like the Met. Rather than a set of rules, the Guidelines offer principles and considerations for building successful collaborations. As the publication notes, “True collaboration does not happen immediately—it is process driven and takes time and commitment.” To this end, Vallo continues to work with Met staff. Recently, he and curator Gaylord Torrence shared reflections on several works in the exhibit.
“As an Acoma tribal member, I’m particularly interested in the materials that come from the southwest…“
“When I first learned about the Diker Collection, I was always intrigued by the pumpkin pot from Acoma. This is a water jar. It is very unique because of the design. While the form and the design on the neck are representative of a typical Acoma pot, the pumpkin design is just so unique. And there is a pigment that fired to a green finish, which is not a traditional color used at Acoma. After speaking with cultural leaders and other potters from Acoma about this particular pot, it was clear that this pot is a tribute to the Pumpkin Clan of Acoma. According to our emergence stories, at the time of emergence there were a certain number of clans that were born onto this world. I’m Sun Clan, and on this pot, we have the sun symbol on the neck there. The sun is surrounded by clouds and rain symbols, and then the larger body of the pot would represent a field or the land, what we would call stádyou or shtída’paima. And here’s this pumpkin, and beside the pumpkin, the corn. Corn is so significant to any indigenous culture, and so this is an incredible representation of what Acoma people today and what our ancestors believe is the life way. It’s a symbol, part of a larger story of our cultures and our continued existence on this earth. I am very pleased to see that items from my community are being included in this important exhibition. These pieces will share their energy, the blessings that they contain, with everyone who sees them…”
Rain and clouds are key to the survival of our people. The potter probably had a prayer for rain. And so clouds would be the black, and then the lines represent rain. What looks like a hand symbol in the center, there, might be the maker’s signature. In Acoma culture, we refer to these pots as kúdíyamunishi. Kúdíyamunishi is a reference to the ancient people or the original people. So when we utilize and recreate these forms and these designs today, we are paying tribute to our ancestors.