Museography - North American Indigenous Peoples: Traditions and Transitions


The indigenous peoples of North America are as diverse as the landscapes of this continent. From the frozen Arctic tundra to beyond the arid Southwest desert, there is a myriad of languages, social structures, religious practices, and indigenous ideologies. Their artistic traditions are exceptional and, whether they served a symbolic or practical purpose, reflect the fundamental principles shared by most North American Indigenous peoples: a deep connection with nature and the environment and the relationship of human activities with the spiritual world and the universe.

133 objects from North American Indigenous peoples were chosen by the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, Orange County, California, especially for this exhibition in Bogotá, which opened on October 3, 2012, and was available until February 3, 2013. Each of the selected artworks showcases the beauty, diversity, and power achieved by indigenous artists of the past and those who perpetuate traditions in the present.

39,329 visitors enjoyed this exhibition, organized by regions: they learned firsthand about the peace pipe and feathered headdress of the Great Plains Indigenous peoples; the bag with tools, seal skin boots, and the delicate (yet waterproof) seal intestine sweater of an Innuit fisherman from the North Arctic; the wood carvings of the totem sculptors on the Northwest Coast; the feathered or glass bead-decorated baskets of California natives, and the textiles, pottery, and kachina dolls (toys that help learn about sacred beings and recognize them) of the Navajo and other groups from the Southwest bordering Mexico.

However, the exhibition was not limited to ethnographic or archaeological views, with a nostalgic look at the past. It showed the constant adaptation of North American native peoples to contact with European trade and highlighted that, despite the dispossession of their lands that meant being concentrated in Reserves, Indigenous peoples continue to be vibrant and numerous, and they combine their traditions and identity with contemporary life. Many have even transitioned from traditional handicraft production to being artists (a concept that does not exist in Amerindian cultures) and successfully move in the art market, gaining another space of recognition from North American society towards their identity.

The exhibition is summarized in a catalog that contains images of the objects, the complete texts, and also a feature article on North American Indigenous peoples. This is one of the legacies left by the exhibition, a memory of a wonderful experience for those who saw it, and consolation and an approach to the subject for those who were not so fortunate.

The cultural programming that accompanied the exhibition was supported by the United States Embassy through the Friends of the Bank of the Republic Art Collections Foundation.

Project name
Museography - North American Indigenous Peoples: Traditions and Transitions
Bogotá | Colombia | Museo del Oro