via Material World 3/22/07:
Fanny Wonu Veys, Department of Africa, Oceania and the Americas, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
After a research visit to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, I decided to visit another Smithsonian museum: the National Museum of the American Indian. Ever since I saw the building works in progress in 2003, I tried to keep updated on what was happening in the museum. It was a unique opportunity for me to see the museum now that it had been open for a little over two years.
Architecturally, the museum building built in hand-cut Minnesota goldstone, with its curvilinear forms and its surrounding garden which includes one hundred and fifty native species contrasts with the other stark white, rectangular buildings on the National Mall and other parts of the city. The visitor enters from the east – the other Smithsonian Museums have their entrances situated on the Mall side or one of its parallel running avenues – , goes through the now ubiquitous bag search routine, and is welcomed into the circular Potomac area, the meeting point for guided tours, arts and craft markets and demonstrations. This area spans the four levels of the museum and is closed off by a step-dome on which daylight, caught by prisms in one of the windows, is reflected.
The ground (first) floor is dedicated to the Museum’s Mitsitam café, the small Chesapeake museum store and the Rasmuson theatre, while the second floor holds the large Roanoke museum shop and an exhibition entitled ‘Return to a native place’ which focuses on the native peoples of Washington D.C.’s local Chesapeake region. The third and fourth floors have the exhibition spaces which are organised thematically into our lives, temporary exhibition space (third floor), our universes, our peoples and the Lelawi theatre (fourth floor). In each section, respectively looking at contemporary native life, native beliefs and native history the voices of indigenous curators representing groups from North, Central and South America are heard. The third and fourth floors are also home to object-rich cases where part of the museum’s vast collection is presented and where visitors can have a self-guided experience through the use of interactive screens. The museum argues that its aim is to give visitors the opportunity to listen to the stories of people that are geographically and culturally related, not taking into account political boundaries. However, it seems to me that existing political boundaries were the major drive force to include the Hawaiian Islands and to exclude Greenland from representation in the museum.
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