SALEM, MASS.- The Peabody Essex Museum
presents a new installation drawn from the museum's Native American art collection - the oldest, most comprehensive ongoing collection of its kind in the Western hemisphere. Raven's Many Gifts: Native Art of the Northwest Coast celebrates the rich artistic legacy of Native artists along the Pacific Northwest Coast while exploring dynamic relationships among humans, animals, ancestors and supernatural beings. Featuring nearly 30 works from the 19th century to present day, the installation includes superlative examples of works on paper, wood carvings, textiles, films, music and jewelry. Raven's Many Gifts is on view through mid-2015.
"Raven, an iconic trickster and culture hero who appears in countless Northwest Coast origin stories, is credited with carrying light into the world in his beak," says Karen Kramer, PEM's curator of Native American art and culture. "Despite profound cultural changes over the past 200 years, oral histories such as the story of Raven continue to inspire a rich and diverse array of creative expression in tribal communities along the Northwest Coast."
Raven's Many Gifts juxtaposes historic and contemporary works while exploring the continuity and evolution of aesthetic traditions and iconographic forms. Many works in the installation, including a 19th century carved raven hat from northern British Columbia, employ formlines - bands of color that outline a figure or create an abstract motif. Formlines and raven motifs also feature prominently in Nicholas Galanin's 2006 video work, Tsu Heidei Shugaxtutaan (We Will Again Open This Container of Wisdom That Has Been Left in Our Care). In this two-part video Galanin opens a dialogue between past and present. In Part I, the non-Native hip-hop dancer David "Elsewhere" Bernal free-forms to the sound of traditional Tlingit chanting and drums. In Part II, Tlingit dancer Dan Littlefield, wearing full regalia and carrying a raven rattle, moves in traditional ways to the electronic beats composed by Galanin.
Raven's Many Gifts features ceremonial regalia, trade goods and contemporary works for art galleries representing tribal communities across the Northwest coast, including Kwakwaka'wakw, Tsimshian, Haida, Interior Salish, Hesquiat First Nation and Tlingit. Organized around the themes of Living Stories, Family Connections and Market Innovations, this installation explores Native art of the Northwest coast through the lens of ritual, ceremony, family identity and adaptation.