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August 05, 2011

Nora Naranjo-Morse gives Vantage Point a fitting send-off

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From Always Becoming's ever-growing Internet portfolio of portraits by amateur and professional photographers: By the Flickr contributor who calls herself catface3. We can't improve on the photographer's caption: "Modern sculpture of natural materials outside the National Museum of the American Indian. They are designed to gradually wear down under weathering and change over time. Hence the title." Flickr 1806666548


Nora naranjo-morse If you’ve been to the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, or even just searched for images of NMAI up on Flickr, you already know the family of sculptures created by Nora Naranjo–Morse in the meadow between the building and Independence Avenue. After the museum’s architecture, Always Becoming surely has the distinction of being the single work of art most likely to be photographed by visitors to this corner of the National Mall.

This weekend offers an unusual opportunity for museum-goers to understand Naranjo-Morse’s artistic thinking, both in creating Always Becoming and in making Stories Upon Stories, a cast-aluminum sculpture inspired in part by Pueblo carved pottery. Stories Upon Stories is one of  31 remarkable works on view through Sunday in the exhibition Vantage Point: The Contemprary Native Art Collection. (Having Nora Narajo-Morse on hand to talk with last-minute visitors to the exhibition represents one of those rare moments of generosity when the universe actually rewards procrastination.)

This evening, as part of the series Dinner & a Movie, the museum is presenting the new documentary Always Becoming, directed by the artist and produced in collaboration with the museum. (The museum's Mitsitam Cafe will serve dinner until 6:30 PM; the movie begins at 7.) Discussion with Nora Naranjo-Morse and and NMAI Video Program Manager Melissa Bisagni follows the screening.

In the film, a work of art in its own right, Naranjo-Morse thinks aloud about the communal process of building her sculptures; the ideas of family, land, and culture they represent; their relationship to the museum and their counterpoint to the symbolic permanence of Washington’s political architecture; and their role as ambassadors of Native ideas and values: “Cultural knowledge has weathered an incredible amount of acculturation. And yet there are simple and truly profound examples of this passed-on knowledge that has informed generations and remains vital to our survival even today.” 

The film also captures the combination of humor, humility, and serious thought that visitors respond to in Naranjo-Morse’s work: “People have asked . . . as we work outside every day, ‘Is this a stovepipe from below the institution?’  ‘Is it a refrigerator?’ ‘Is it a wedding cake?’ ‘Is it a whale?’ ‘Is it an oven?’ ‘Is it a restroom?’ And in that, it’s been very interesting, because that’s really pushed me out of my comfort zone as well. How do I look at those questions that probably a lot of people have in terms of what we make as Native people and what we’re doing as Native people?”

The film will also be shown—alas, without the du=iscussion afterward—Saturday, August 6, and Sunday, August 7, at 12:30 pm (with open captions in English) and 3:30 pm (with open captions in Spanish).


Naranjo Morse- Stories
Stories upon Stories, 2005.
Nora Naranjo-Morse (Santa Clara Pueblo), b. 1953. Cast aluminum, ed. 1/4. Museum purchase with funds donated by David and Sara Lieberman, Larry Goldstone, and the Masterpool Foundation Trust, 2007 (26/5837)


On Sunday afternoon, from 1:30 to 2:30, Naranjo-Morse will present a kind of walking gallery talk. She will begin in the Vantage Point gallery on the museum’s 3rd level with discussion about Stories Upon Stories and continue outside with more thoughts on Always Becoming.

If you haven’t seen the exhibition yet, don’t miss the opportunity to see some of the smart, moving, and challenging work being done by Native contemporary artists. And if you’re unable to come in person (or even if you have), be sure to check out the exhibition’s website, optimized for smartphones and other mobile devices, which is filled with resources for learning more about the featured artists and their work.

In recently added video interviews, photographer Rosalie Favell (Cree Métis) talks about her 2006 self portrait If only you could love me . . .  and her interest in telling stories about her life; performance and installation artist James Luna (Puyukitchum [Luiseño]) discusses his piece Chapel for Pablo Tac, first created for the 2005 Venice Biennale; and painter Mario Martinez (Pascua Yaqui) reflects on abstraction and the cultural and art historical contexts for his work.

Interviews with Truman Lowe (Ho-Chunk) and Marie Watt (Seneca), posted earlier in the exhibition’s run, are available as well. Also featured are artist talks by Kay WalkingStick (Cherokee) on the evolution of her painting over her 45-year career, and Margarete Bagshaw (Santa Clara Pueblo) on three generations of strong women artists in her family.

Elsewhere on the website, you can download the exhibition brochure and an educational guide for families and children, find instructions for listening to the artists’ statements recorded for the exhibition’s cell phone tour, read bios of the artists and follow links to their websites, and learn about the programs scheduled for the exhibition’s closing weekend.  The exhibition is nearing its end, but the content-filled website will continue to be a significant resource.

Uncaptioned photo above: Nora Naranjo-Morse during the creation of Always Becoming. NMAI.

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