Life, Death and Transformation in the Americas will present one hundred-two masterpieces from the Arts of the Americas Permanent Collection that exemplify the concept of transformation as part of the religious beliefs and social practices of the region's indigenous peoples. Themes of life, death, fertility, regeneration, and spiritual transformation will be explored through pre-Columbian and historical artworks including twenty-one objects that have not been on public view for decades or have never been exhibited. This long-term installation, which will open on January 18, will be on display in the Museum's recently re-openEd Galleries on the fifth floor adjacent to American Identities.
Highlights include the Huastec Life-Death Figure, a carved stone statue that juxtaposes images of life and death and is one of the finest of its kind; the Kwakwaka'wakw Thunderbird Transformation Mask (pictured), a carved wood mask in the form of an ancestral being that opens to reveal a second, human face; and two eight-foot-tall, carved nineteenth-century Heiltsuk house posts made to support the huge beams of a great Northwest Coast plank house. Other featured objects include examples from the extensive Hopi and Zuni kachina collection; masks from all over the Americas; Aztec and Maya sculptures; pre-Columbian gold ornaments; and ancient Andean textiles including the two-thousand-year-old Paracas Textile, the most famous piece in the Museum's Andean collection, which illustrates the way in which early cultures of Peru's South Coast envisioned their relationship with nature and the supernatural realm.
Among the objects that have rarely been on public view are a full-body bark-cloth mask made by the Pami'wa of Colombia and Brazil; a Paracas painted textile mask that was most likely associated with a mummy bundle; a Northwest Coast Kwakwaka'wakw Wild Man Mask by John Livingston; a Maya effigy vessel in the form of a hunchback wearing a jaguar skin; a large, elaborately-painted Paracas jar; a Maya warrior figure with removable headdress; two contemporary kachinas by the Hopi carver Henry Shelton; Anasazi and Valdivia clay figurines, the oldest types found in North and South America; Paracas textile fragments from South America; an aquamarine grasshopper pendant from Mexico; ceramic bird whistles from Costa Rica and Panama; Moche stirrup-spout vessels from Peru; and a large, woven Apache basket with spirit figures.
Life, Death and Transformation in the Americas is organized by Nancy Rosoff, Andrew W. Mellon Curator, Arts of the Americas, Brooklyn Museum; and Susan Kennedy Zeller, Associate Curator, Native American Art, Brooklyn Museum.
This installation will be accompanied by a series of educational programs to be announced at a later date.