The concept of border crossing reverberates in Haudenosaunee (or Iroquois) consciousness as a fundamental right, guaranteed by the Jay Treaty of 1794 and reenacted every year in July, of native people to cross the border between the United States and Canada without restrictions. A traveling exhibition of Haudenosaunee beadwork, organized and circulated by the McCord Museum of Canadian History in Montreal and the Castellani Art Museum of Niagara University, takes its name from this concept. Across Borders refers not only to the binational project team but also to the two featured communities, Kahnawake in Québec and Tuscarora in New York. The two museums mounted the exhibit in collaboration with the Kanienkehaka Raotitiohkwa Cultural Center of the Kahnawake, the Tuscarora Nation community beadworkers in New York State, and the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto.
Designed to present the history, context, and contemporary expression of a long-standing traditional art form that is deeply important to the Haudenosaunee, this informative and evocative exhibition succeeds on several levels. The project situates Haudenosaunee beadwork in both its historical roots and its present-day strength. The exhibit goes beyond excellent scholarship, however, to honor in a compelling and profound way how Haudenosaunee cosmology, expressed through symbols, metaphors, and motifs, gives meaning to the art and continues to inform the lives of the artists. Curators tackled such issues as innovation and cultural continuity in traditional artssubjects often debated in museum, art history, and folklore forums. Marketing, so central to Haudenosaunee beadwork, has been addressed both in the exhibit interpretation and in practice by the Castellani Art Museum, which offered opportunities for Tuscarora artists to sell their work not only in the museum shop but also directly to the public at meet-the-artist sales at the museum. (Still to come are a catalog and website that will enable visitors to buy beadwork from the artists.)
|The richness of the Across Borders exhibit comes from the collaboration of contemporary beadworkers with curators and historians. By honoring the significance of their art in their world, traditional artists from several Native communities link past and present for museum goers. Photo: Bill Henrich, Keystone Film Productions.
Lynne Williamson is director of the Connecticut Cultural Heritage Arts Program with the Institute for Community Research in Hartford.
May 25, 2001–October 28, 2001
Canadian Museum of Civilization
December 9, 2001–May 19, 2002
National Museum of the American Indian
George Gustav Heye Center
New York City
June 21, 2002–October 13, 2002
Royal Ontario Museum
November 23, 2002–February 16, 2003
Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center
Rickard, Jolene. 1992. Cew Ete Haw I Tih: The Bird That Carries Language Back to Another. In Partial Recall, Lucy Lippard, ed. New York: The New Press.
The full article, that we have excerpted here, appeared in Voices Vol. 27, Spring-Summer 2001. Voices is the membership magazine of the New York Folklore Society. To become a subscriber, join the New York Folklore Society today.
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