Shapeshifting: Transformations In Native American Art celebrates Native American ideas that have crossed time and space to be continuously refreshed with new concepts and expressions. Experience this vitality through sculpture, paintings, ceramics, textiles, photographs, videos, and monumental installations drawn from collections in the United States, Canada, and Europe. Rarely seen historic pieces, shown alongside some of the finest contemporary works, demonstrate the diversity and continuity of Native American art and culture from 200 B.C.E. to the present. Public perception of Native American art and culture has often been derived from misunderstandings and misinterpretations, and from images promulgated by popular culture. Typically, Native Americans are grouped as a whole and their art and culture considered part of the past rather than widely present. Shapeshifting challenges these assumptions by focusing on the objects as art rather than cultural or anthropological artifacts and on the multivalent creativity of Native American artists. The approach highlights the inventive contemporaneity that existed in all periods and continues today. More than seventy-five works in a wide range of media and scale are organized into four thematic groups: changing—expanding the imagination; knowing—expressing worldview; locating—exploring identity and place; and voicing—engaging the individual. The result is a paradigm shift in understanding Native American art.
The publication accompanies the exhibition Shapeshifting: Transformations in Native American Art on view at the Peabody Essex Museum from January 14 through April 29, 2012.
Karen Kramer is the curator of Native American and Oceanic Art and Culture at the Peabody Essex Museum. She is co-author and editor of Shapeshifting: Transformations in Native American Art, and a contributor to Our Land: Contemporary Art from the Arctic and Uncommon Legacies: Native American Art from the Peabody Essex Museum.