The power and beauty of historical Native American art are celebrated in the one hundred and sixteen works now installed in a newly designed gallery in the Museum's American Wing. New York collectors Charles and Valerie Diker have donated, loaned, and promised many of these works as gifts to the Museum, and the exhibition of these objects, Art of Native America: The Charles and Valerie Diker Collection, marks the first time Native works have taken their place in the American Wing—founded in 1924—as representatives of North America's artistic heritage. It is a momentous occasion.
Some of the artists are named—such as Nampeyo, No Two Horns, Standing Bear, Albert Edenshaw, and Carrie Bethel—while others are unnamed—the Tsimshian carver who made the great shaman's rattle, the Anishinaabe woman who created the iconic Peter Jones shoulder bag, the Wasco artist who made the intricately beaded bag, and the Navajo woman who wove the rare first-phase chief's blanket. All of them came from an earlier time—mostly the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—and many different places spanning the United States and Canada. They created against the backdrop of Euro-American colonization. Together, their works display the complexity, vibrancy, and variation of historical Native life and the cultural and artistic traditions that supported their creative energy and vision.
Tsimshian artist. Shaman's rattle. British Columbia, Canada, ca. 1750–80. Birch, bone, human hair, pigment, and metal pins, 14 x 9 x 4 1/2 in. (35.6 x 22.9 x 11.4 cm). Loan from the Charles and Valerie Diker Collection. Image © Charles and Valerie Diker Collection/Photo: Dirk Bakker
Conceived and made to be fundamentally sacred in their imagery and use, the works reflect cultural worldviews, religious traditions, and community values. Many objects, such as the Yup'ik mask and Haida raven rattle served in rituals. The imagery, form, or purpose of other objects, such as the Lakota blanket strip and Acoma woman's cape, held spiritual content.
Other objects, including the groups of California baskets and Pueblo pottery, display profound connections to the natural world. And still others—the shoulder bags from the Southeastern Woodlands and the women's beaded hoods from the James Bay Cree—derived their inspiration from trade materials, and demonstrate the complexities of intertribal exchange and Euro-American encounter. The diversity of all the objects affirms the presence of the hundreds of unique historical cultural groups, each with their own language, lifeways, religion, and mythology. The Diker collection dispels the idea of a single Native American cultural identity. Nearly all of the major aesthetic forms produced by historical Native artists are represented—paintings, sculpture, textiles, quill and bead embroidery, basketry and ceramics—and each object is imbued with cultural integrity, belief, and knowledge.
Many years ago, a Meskwaki elder and religious leader was blessing an exhibition, and he concluded by saying that he hoped each visitor "would see these things with their heart." The Dikers have collected with heart, and the artists created these works from the heart—in their own time and place. With this exhibition, The Met honors that heart, and the great relevance these objects have today. To quote Yale University historian Ned Blackhawk from his essay in the accompanying catalogue, "To engage Native art is to reconsider the meanings of America."
In celebration of the highly anticipated opening of Art of Native America: The Charles and Valerie Diker Collection, The Met has planned several programs with contemporary Native American artists that respond to the installation directly as well as amplify diverse cultures and voices across North America.
Contemporary Indigenous music has gained prominence, visibility, and fans across the Americas, and indigenous musicians are topping the charts in Canada. Singers and musicians iskwé (Cree and Métis), Elisapie (Inuk), and DJ Shub (Mohawk), with hoop dancer James Jones will be in concert at The Met, and there will be a pre-concert conversation with the artists at 7 pm.
Friday, October 5, 6:30 pm
The Met Fifth Avenue - The Bonnie J. Sacerdote Lecture Hall, Uris Center for Education
Free with Museum admission
A talk about collecting and conserving Native American art with Collectors Charles and Valerie Diker and the exhibition guest curator Gaylord Torrence, the Fred and Virginia Merrill Senior Curator of American Indian Art at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
Contemporary Native American artists lead thirty-minute responsive conversations about objects and themes in the exhibition. There will be four individual tours led by Ty Defoe, performing artist; Alan Michelson, visual artist; Jackson Polys, visual artist; Martha Redbone, performing artist.
Sunday, November 11, 1 – 4:00 pm
The Met Fifth Avenue - Carson Family Hall, Ruth and Harold D. Uris Center for Education
Free with Museum admission
For families with children ages 3 through 11, the theme of this Family Afternoon program is "Native Narratives," and will feature storytelling and activities with artist Ty Defoe.
Native and non-Native experts lead a series of discussions on relevant topics of historical and cultural interest. Please check back to The Met's website for more information.