Wednesday, November 20, 2013

CAMPUS BEAT: Peabody Museum (Harvard)/Translating Encounters

Plaque Depicting Chief Flanked by Two Warriors, 1550-1650, (detail)

Link the the Exhibition Website:

Co-Curators: Stephanie N Krysiak, Emily P Pierce and Drs. Diana Lauren, Peabody Museum Associate Curator, and Christina Hodge, Peabody Museum Senior Curatorial Assistant

PR Buzz: "This exhibition broadly explores the material ways in which encounters were experienced, translated, and memorialized by peoples of Europe, Africa, and the Americas."

Recommended For: a trip to the Peabody is always recommended by Vident Omnes

The Experience:
On a sunny weekday, I threaded my way through the idiosyncratic warren that is the Peabody Museum of Anthropology and Ethnolog. The inspiring noise of an enthusiastically engaged school group echoed through the halls. I eventually found my quarry.

Translating Encounters is a terrific idea on a number of levels that falls down a bit on execution. The exhibition is the product of a collaboration between two Harvard classes working with the collections of the Peabody and various Harvard library and archival holdings.  That, in itself, is a wonderful experiment that I hope is repeated in the future. The subject of the show is a fascinating topic that deserves room to be explored.

Unfortunately, room is something this show is not given. Tucked into a corner of the 4th floor galleries, Translating Encounters is difficult to distinguish from the Pacific cultures material and dioramas of Native Americans that surround it. The exhibition takes a swing at some very big ideas it doesn't ultimately have the bandwidth to deliver. This shortcoming is compounded by the inclusion of some late 19th or early 20th century African objects, such as the magnificent Kuba royal masks, whose presence in the show is not fully explained.

I found myself wishing that the true early-17th century materials that were displayed had been featured, or brought to the fore, more effectively. Among these objects are a spectacular bronze Plaque from Benin depicting a chief flanked by warriors, a remarkable Spanish (or Spanish-American?) painted leather shield, and a ceramic Jaguar Warrior figurine. The period prints, drawings and engravings were all shown in reproduction- a disappointment as surely the Harvard collections have more than a few of these in the original. An image of an elaborate 17th century celestial globe from Harvard's own collections is shown. Why not have the real thing?

In summary, the exhibition should have either been given more real estate to make its statement, or should have focused on the thoughtful juxtaposition of fewer, more original objects and artworks.

-Vident Omnes

While You're There: see the wonderfully-intalled Wiyopiyata: Lakota Images of the Contested West on the first floor just as you enter.

Jaguar Warrior Figurine 14th-16th century

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