Campo Band of Kumeyaay Indians

Part of Exhibition: Our Lives: Contemporary Life and Identities

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Review

of an Exhibit

by Gabriela Lujan

Published on March 20, 2012 , Modified on April 22, 2012

  • Description:

    The National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) has an ongoing exhibition titled “Our Lives: Contemporary Life and Identities.” It presents reflections on contemporary Native American identity through content developed and created by Native communities.

    While walking through “Our Lives,” I was fascinated by how the curatorial approach and theme affected how technology was used. The Museum invited eight Native American communities to be a part of the exhibition. Each community chose tribal members that became the curators and collaborated with the NMAI. I will mainly be focusing on the technologies used in the exhibit by the Campo Band of Kumeyaay Indians of Southern California.

    “Our Lives” uses quite of bit of technology including interactive kiosks, multiple video displays and layers of audio tracks. The entrance is a hallway area with walls completely covered by video projections that follow you for about 15 feet. The projections are images of people walking alongside the wall. This engaging entrance asks viewers to consider how Native Americans are a part of our everyday lives. As you enter this large space, community exhibits are found in intimate pocket shaped areas. Several additional curved walls display work by contemporary artists.

    The Kumeyaay community exhibit is one of the first areas you can enter. There is an initial wall space with an 18" video display that shows young and old community members describing what it means to be Kumeyaay. The video loops and lasts about 5 minutes long. It serves as a warm welcome that makes a viewer more curious about the tradition and culture that guide community member responses.

    The next set of wall text describes a traditional yearly event called Star Gathering where young members participate by singing, dancing, and playing Peon, an old traditional guessing game. Visitors can play the game in the small inset room that follows. The room is just big enough for a large 6 foot projection screen that sits close to floor level and rests 4 feet behind a touch screen display. Next to the display is a text description of how to play the game and a set of playing sticks used to keep score. Initially there is a looped video of community members building a campfire in preparation and then playing Peon amongst themselves. The people in the video appear almost life size. As a result, you begin to feel like you could walk right into the screen.

    The display invites you to play a game of Peon. Once you start pressing options, the video projection changes, and you find yourself being directed by a community member standing on the lower-right edge of the screen. He seems to look straight at you while giving directions and announcing results. At times it feels like he could be standing right next to you. You also face other players who respond to your game moves. The new video is a great surprise and quickly draws a viewer into the simulation. Unfortunately, I was unclear about the rules of Peon, but it did not stop me from playing. I quickly found myself entertained and started talking back to the screen when I lost a game. As I continued to play, I began to feel more connected to the experience.

    The way the video was filmed and projected helps create a successfully executed (seemingly live) simulation. It brings a viewer into the community and makes them feel included in a very physical and psychological way. It was engaging and an enhancing experience for these reasons.

    While standing aside, I watched several older adults view the initial video, but without interacting with the touch screen. Kids only glanced in as they were walking by. There is no indication given that the simulation includes the projection screen. At first, I assumed the game would appear on the touch screen display like a video game experience you might have online. The surprise factor is certainly entertaining, however, your average viewer may need more information. A photo of the simulation in action along with a few words could be all that is needed. It could be simply displayed by the entrance to the small room. I watched as several viewers skipped the game options, I felt they lost out on the experience and cultural exchange that comes with playing the game.

    The Peon game simulation does many things all at once. It shows how tradition is handed down to the younger generations and how important it is for the community to unify its members. It playfully invites viewers to join in a present day cultural event and clearly wants the viewer to enjoy and feel a part of that experience. It is a bridge builder between different cultural groups.

    The NMAI website has additional Kumeyaay community information and videos. However, this content is a part of the American Indian Responses to Environmental Challenge section. There is only one page of text referring to the “Our Lives” exhibition. Since the Museum underwent a soft launch of their new website recently, I am hoping visual and video content on “Our Lives” will appear in the near future.

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