Trying to Understand Native American Art

Robert Rubsam at Commonweal:

Almost nothing in this exhibition was created for aesthetic admiration alone. Whether it’s the way a Diné blanket’s lines break into daring geometric forms when placed across a person’s shoulders, or the transformation that a mask undergoes during a ritual, the full beauty of these objects has to be activated by the people who use them. One wishes those people were present. The more time one spends looking at the works on display at the Met, the more one suspects that they could only ever be seen as they are meant to be seen when used as they were meant to be used. Placed behind glass under the banner of “art,” they look abandoned.

Perhaps this is unavoidable. But surely it is not too much to ask that such objects always be presented with an account of the stories and activities that gave them their original meaning. Early in the exhibition one comes across a true masterpiece, a dagger whose handle is adorned with a shaman’s owl-eyed face, his trance state beaten onto the thin metal.

more here.