In the Indigenous communities of the Southwest, water jars are used for collection and storage, and some are intended for ceremonial purpose. A more intricately painted pot generally indicates ceremonial use, whereas less intricate designs might indicate that the pot has a more practical function. Some water jars would have been created by Indigenous people of the Southwest as decorative objects for a Western market. However, designs that were sacred or specific to a family or clan were not circulated on the market. These vessels are still produced today for commerce, utilitarian purpose, and ritual use, and their shapes and designs have continued to highlight the innovations of their makers.
The moccasins Gibson selected present a range of styles from different historical periods and span seasons, regions, and tribes—expressed in the variety of shapes, colors, designs, and materials. Much like other shoes, moccasins are utilitarian: different types serve different functions. They can also display prestige or wealth. If the beadwork, quillwork, or embroidery pattern is more intricate, it took more time and effort to create, signaling a higher social or economic status. Designs can also indicate where the maker is from—their tribe, community, clan, or family.
Illustrated by the Húŋkpapa (Húnkpapa) Lakota Rain-In-The-Face (Ité Omágažu) and given by him to artist Edwin Willard Deming, this tipi liner entered the Brooklyn Museum’s collection in 1943 as a gift from Deming’s widow. The liner has been typically displayed in the manner of other collection items as an art object, yet this tipi liner represents the life and deeds of Rain-In-The-Face in his own hand and is thus as much an archive as it is an object. From this perspective, Rain-In-The-Face’s history should be put in dialogue not only with collection items but also with material from the Museum’s own libraries and archives. Rain-In-The-Face’s narration of Native life does not center the United States or U.S. policy toward Indigenous people as the primary point of interest. Recognizing the archival qualities of the tipi liner adds nuance and complexity to a work that has been portrayed primarily as a fine art object. The tipi liner invites us to bring a new approach to recover Native agency, presence, and voice in the Museum archive and in the collections.
—Dr. Christian Ayne Crouch
Jeffrey Gibson: When Fire Is Applied to a Stone It Cracks
February 14, 2020–January 10, 2021
Jeffrey Gibson, an artist of Choctaw and Cherokee descent, incorporates elements of Native American art and craft into his practice, creating a rich visual and conceptual dialogue between his work and the histories that inform it. In Jeffrey Gibson: When Fire Is Applied to a Stone It Cracks, he selected objects from our collection, which are presented alongside his recent work. The resulting multimedia, floor-to-ceiling installation questions long-held institutional categorizations and representations of Indigenous peoples and Native American art. It also provides a context for Gibson’s work and acts as a contemporary lens through which to see historical works by both Indigenous and non-Native peoples.
Gibson’s works on view include garments, beaded punching bags, paintings on hide and canvas, and ceramic vessels. Collection objects include moccasins, headdresses, ceramics, rawhide, and examples of beadwork and appliqué. The exhibition also features rarely exhibited materials from our Archives and Library Special Collections that shed light on the formation of our Native American collection in the early twentieth century by curator Stewart Culin.
Jeffrey Gibson: When Fire Is Applied to a Stone It Cracks is organized by Jeffrey Gibson and Christian Ayne Crouch, Curatorial Advisor, with Eugenie Tsai, John and Barbara Vogelstein Senior Curator, Contemporary Art, and Erika Umali, Assistant Curator of Collections, with support from Nancy Rosoff, Andrew W. Mellon Senior Curator, Arts of the Americas, and Molly Seegers, Museum Archivist, Brooklyn Museum.
Major support for this exhibition is provided by the A. Alfred Taubman Foundation. Generous support is provided by the Arts, Equity, & Education Fund, the Brooklyn Museum’s Contemporary Art Committee, the Embrey Family Foundation, the FUNd, Kavi Gupta, Stephanie and Tim Ingrassia, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and Sikkema Jenkins & Co. Additional support is provided by Rona and Jeffrey Citrin, Christy and Bill Gautreaux, Raymond Learsy, Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, California, and the May and Samuel Rudin Family Foundation, Inc.