of an Exhibit

by Carmen Andino

Published on March 25, 2011 , Modified on March 26, 2011

  • Description:

    The National Museum of the American Indian in New York City is currently presenting a small exhibit entitled GRAB. The exhibition is made up of photographs by Idris Rheubottom, Tony Craig, and Cybelle Codish, who captured images from an annual tradition called Grab Day, which takes place in the villages within the Laguna Pueblo of New Mexico. During Grab Day, packages of water and food, as well as traditional pottery pieces are thrown from rooftops to people standing below as a community celebration and prayer of abundance, giving thanks, and the cycle of renewal. The message that this exhibit is trying to communicate is about family, honor, community, and shared experiences. The text panel for the exhibit started off with questions to the visitor about these themes, “How do you share with your family? What do you give to your neighbors?” By providing thoughtful questions at the very beginning of the experience, the museum is requesting that visitors be reflective and make personal connections with what is being offered, no matter what their cultural background may be.

    The location of the GRAB exhibit unfortunately seems to be a disadvantage to the message and richness that the images have to offer. The exhibit is located in a two-sided hallway space that is separated by doors that lead into the permanent collection. Before I entered the spaces that were dedicated to the GRAB exhibit I noticed they were empty, even though there was a fair amount of people in the museum. While I was viewing the photographs, other visitors came into the space and the majority would walk through one side fairly quickly. I didn’t see anyone stop to read the wall text, and noticed only 3 people walked to the other side of the exhibit. The physical space really impacted how this exhibit was viewed, and unfortunately it seemed to be getting passed over.

    The wall text was written by N. Bird Runningwater whose father is from the Laguna Pueblo, and who is a writer, director, producer, as well as Associate Director at Sundance Institute, Native American and Indigenous Program. In his explanation of the Grab Day ritual he wrote, “No matter what is being thrown, hands reach to the sky and clamor for these gifts. These gifts represent hope and blessings, and the honor of catching something on this special day completes the circle of reciprocity that has existed within the pueblo villages since time immemorial.” It is clear to me that this exhibit is showing Native American life in present day and attempting to share with visitors the message that past beliefs are still relevant and important in the lives of this community today. The images are striking, give rich cultural context, and are thought provoking. It’s a shame that the location makes viewing difficult, because GRAB is an experience worth participating in.

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