Indepth Arts News: |
"Across Borders: Beadwork in Iroqous Life"
2001-12-09 until 0000-00-00
Smithsonian, National Museum of the American Indian
New York, NY,
From striking beaded clothing to souvenir beaded pincushions, the artistic, cultural,
economic and political significance of beadwork in the lives of Iroquois people is
explored in a new exhibition, titled Across Borders: Beadwork in Iroquois Life. More than 300 examples of stunning beadwork, including moccasins, picture frames, and
bags, will be on display to illustrate how placing thousands of tiny glass beads on fabric
is ultimately linked to the identity and survival of Iroquois people. The exhibition
traces the story of Iroquois beadwork from pre-European contact to the present.
“This exhibition tells the fascinating story of how Native peoples have adapted traditional
tribal aesthetics to new products that were marketed to a diverse network of consumers,”
said W. Richard West, the director of the National Museum of the American Indian.
“‘Across Borders’ also symbolizes how many Native cultures have remained vibrant by
adapting deftly to surrounding influences while, at the same time, staying true to the spirit
of their communities.”
Through thematic sections, the exhibition tells the stories of the Iroquois universe, the
development of beadwork, the interaction of Iroquois and Victorian aesthetics, the
entrepreneurial skills of the Iroquois, and how contemporary Iroquois beadworkers have
reinvented the language of beadwork.
The Iroquois people live on territories that border New York State, Quebec and Ontario.
During the 19th century, Iroquois artists developed a remarkable new style of
beadwork—“tourist art”—that was a blend of traditional Iroquois designs with popular
Victorian fashions. Vibrantly colored beadwork spilled across the fabric of souvenir
pincushions, picture frames and wallpockets designed to appeal to throngs of eager
tourists visiting popular resorts such as Niagara Falls and Saratoga. Spanning the turn of
the century, the sale of souvenir art was the cornerstone of new Iroquois economies.
Today, as always, Iroquois people continue to maintain their strong link to an artistic
tradition that resonates with their beliefs, sense of identity and community values.
Women create the elaborately beaded garments worn at political events and also make
beaded Christmas decorations. On the international scene, contemporary Iroquois artists
are creating innovative works that, while inspired by beadwork, move across conceptual
boundaries and challenge viewers to reflect on the events that have shaped the history of
Native and non-Native relations. In sum, “Across Borders” takes visitors on a trip that
crosses many borders—from the past to the future, from art to craft, from cosmology to
everyday events, and most importantly, from isolation to a new shared space where both
Native and non-Native people will better understand their complex and interwoven
“Across Borders: Beadwork in Iroquois Life” is a traveling exhibition organized by the
McCord Museum of Canadian History in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, in partnership with
the Castellani Art Museum of Niagara University, Lewiston, N.Y., with the participation
of the Kanien’kehaka Raotitiohkwa Cultural Center, Kahnawake, Quebec; the Tuscarora
community of western New York state; and the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto,