After an initial section featuring contemporary works by Native American Indians, the objects are presented chronologically from the period preceding contact with the Europeans up until the creation of the reserves. The exhibit thus reveals the continuum of the artistic expression of the Plains Indians – with forms which emerge, continue, evolve, disappear then re-emerge – against a backdrop of ceaseless cultural transformations.
The exhibit is divided into seven sections:
- Artistic revival in contemporary life, 1965-2014
- Communities and diasporas, 1910-1965
- Ancient peoples, pre-contact
- Life on the Great Plains, 1700-1820
- A flourishing culture, 1820-1860
- The death of the bison, 1860-1880
- In the remains of the ancestral lands, 1880-1910
A special cross-section displays an exceptional selection of five painted skins from different time periods. The oldest dates from the first half of the 18th century and the most recent from the end of the 19th century; patterns are both abstract and figurative.
Plains Tribes from the 1800s to the 1850s
A map details the locations of the Plains tribes from the 1800s to the 1850s. It provides only a general overview and does not reflect the tribal migrations which have modified the topography of each tribe’s territories over the years. Likewise it does not illustrate the displacement of the Woodlands populations to the reserves in the Eastern Plains – now the states of Kansas and Oklahoma.
The exhibit includes a cinema room which will screen a program entitled “Stereotypes”, devised by the critic and film historian Michel Ciment. Approx. 20 minutes in duration, this program includes extracts from films by Cecil B. De Mille, John Ford, William A. Wellman, etc. Hollywood projected various stereotypes of the Indian, a central figure in the Western film genre. In the 1920s, more than 150 of 1600 Westerns featured “Redskins”. The image of the savage warrior daubed with paint, bloodthirsty and often drunk, would dominate from 1930 to 1950. Cecil B. DeMille, ever sensitive to the spirit of the time, presented an archetypal version in The Plainsman (1936). John Ford, who loved to visit the Indian tribes and film on their land, still depicted them as merciless aggressors in Stagecoach (1939), before repenting with Cheyenne Autumn (1964) which was about the extinction of a race. At the beginning of the 1970s, the environmental movement and the Vietnam War triggered a reinterpretation of the conquest of the West. Love between a white man and an Indian princess would also become a leitmotif in many of these films, suggesting an improbable and romantic reconciliation between the conquering whites and the victims of an ethnocide.
In parallel to the exhibit, the visitor will also be able to learn about the significant events in the history of the Plains Indians, through a selection of geographical maps, diagrams, texts and chronological and iconographic elements presented on a large “atlas wall”. The main themes presented are as follows:
- Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804-1806)
- The Lords of the Plains
- Treaties and Armed Conflicts
- Spiritual and Cultural Resilience
Multimedia game for a young audience
This game features Yakari and Arc-en-Ciel [Rainbow], the two figures from the famous comic book. They invite children into their tribe to teach them all the secrets of the life of the Plains Indians. How do you erect a tepee? What can we produce with a bison? What is a dreamcatcher for?
To ensure that all visitors, including the visually-impaired, can access these works, four tactile interpretations of objects in the Museum’s collections can be explored with the fingertips. Tactile space in the exhibit produced thanks to technology and sponsorship from Mikli Diffusion France
Exhibit on Tour
After being displayed in Paris, the exhibit will be shown in the United States from Friday September 19th 2014 to Sunday January 11th 2015 at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, then from Monday March 2nd to Sunday May 10th 2015 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.