'Native American Voices' opens this weekend at Penn Museum

After more than five years of collaboration with Native American artists, leaders, and scholars, the Penn Museum will unveil its newest exhibition, “Native American Voices: The People—Here and Now,” on Saturday, March 1.

The uniquely interactive exhibit—which will rotate more than 250 objects over the course of five years—aims to transform preconceptions about Native American culture by highlighting distinct stories and identities through outlets and artifacts such as audio, poetry, art, garments, and tools.

“We know the objects in the Penn Museum’s collection are extraordinary as documents of different communities, times, and places in history, but we also wanted our collection to speak to the ongoing concerns and changing traditions of the people whose ancestors made them and first imbued them with meaning,” says Lucy Fowler Williams, curator of the exhibition and senior keeper of the American Section at the Penn Museum.

Photos by Steven Minicola

The exhibit focuses on four themes: “Local Nations,” “Sacred Places,” “Continuing Celebrations,” and “New Initiatives.” Visitors can examine objects such as Lenape materials from the Delaware Valley; war bonnets and regalia from plains and prairies; intricately woven baskets from Maine and California; and robes, regalia, moccasins, jewelry, children’s toys and clothing, contemporary Native American art, and stone tools from Clovis, N.M., which are among the oldest objects in the Museum’s collection.

“Native American Voices” gives patrons a unique and atypical exhibition experience. Through a central introductory video, and four massive towers with touchscreen displays, the exhibit will shine light on Native American perspectives via a number of channels, including video, audio, and essays. At interactive digital stations, visitors can investigate and sort every object in the exhibition by tribe, location, material, and the dates from which they originate.

“This exhibit is truly interactive on a level I don’t think the Museum has engaged at before,” Williams says. “I sometimes feel like I’m just here to make people come together in this space. I want visitors to turn and see the faces of actual, living Native Americans—that’s been the collaborative mode of this exhibition.”

The exhibition opens on March 1 with a public celebration from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. featuring Native American music and dance, presentations by Native American community leaders from around the country, as well as arts, crafts, workshops, and children’s activities—all free and open to the public with Museum admission donation.

Additional “Native American Voices” events will take place through April.

For more information, visit the Penn Museum website.

Originally published on February 27, 2014