There is an indigenous mapping movement growing around the world reinforcing indigenous knowledge of ancestral lands and describing the world as a cultural landscape. The Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff is set to open a new exhibit, A:shiwi A:wan Ulohnanne—The Zuni World, that highlights the Zuni peoples’ unique approach to mapping with art. Thirty new Zuni map art paintings and accompanying videography and acoustic productions are part of the exhibit, produced in partnership with the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center (AAMHC) in Zuni, New Mexico. The exhibit will be open from February 26 through October 30, 2011.
The Zunis have always had maps, in songs and prayers, painted on ceramics, and etched in stone. These maps refer to the place of their origin and places they visited. But over the past 500 years, Zuni names of places and their meanings have been all but eliminated from mainstream use. In their place are a new set of maps, with a new set of names that reflect other values and ways of seeing the world that has been the Zunis’ home for generations.
“In the face of modernity and globalization, Zunis along with other indigenous peoples are struggling to maintain a relationship with cultural landscapes throughout our aboriginal territories,” stated Jim Enote, director of the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center and curator of the exhibit. “We believe map art can create a new pathway for envisioning and respecting sacred natural features. Being mindful and taking care of these places is important for Zuni’s cultural survival, as well as the survival of all dependant life in the area.”
MNA Director Dr. Robert Breunig added, “The majority of people living on the Colorado Plateau have little knowledge of why the Zunis care so much about this entire region. During the ancient migration of the Zuni people from the Grand Canyon to their present home at Zuni Pueblo in western New Mexico, they left physical and spiritual marks upon the landscape, which evoke memories, connections, and ideas.”
Many modern maps are direct denials of Zuni history and their presence on the land. Consequently, those maps have led to the creation of the exhibit’s map paintings by prominent Zuni artists Alex Seowtewa, Duane Dishta, Edward Wemytewa, Geddy Epaloose, Mallery Quetawki, and Ernalinda Pooacha-Eli, among others. The paintings are distinctly Zuni and consistent with Zuni styles of abstraction of nature. “These map art paintings speak to the artists’ continuous search for the essence of Zuni and serve as learning tools for our community,” Enote said. “The A:shiwi A:wan Museum’s map art collection is helping to accelerate a movement in indigenous map making and a movement to reverse distortions of our history.”
The Zuni map art program is one of the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center’s most ambitious and far-reaching undertakings to date. Fourteen artists in all traveled to ancestral sites throughout the Colorado Plateau and then, with the aid of Zuni cultural advisors, recorded the cultural landscapes in map paintings. For Zuni tribal members missing parts of traditional knowledge handed down from elders, the maps serve as guides to learn Zuni place names and Zuni history.
A:shiwi A:wan Ulohnanne—The Zuni World is funded by a grant from the Christensen Fund. Additional support for the Zuni map art program comes from the Annenberg Foundation, Lannan Foundation, and National Geographic Society Expeditions Council.
Visitors to the exhibit may purchase a full-color catalog, with reproductions of the paintings, artist’s statements, and essays. This publication will be available at the MNA Bookstore and the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center.
In conjunction with the exhibit, the Museum’s Harold S. Colton Memorial Library has put together a book display on Zuni map art, Zuni art, and newspaper articles from MNA’s Archives, which will be on display from February 28 through March 21. The MNA library is open Monday through Friday from 1 to 5 p.m. and can be reached by phone at extension 256.
The Museum of Northern Arizona is surrounded by tremendous geological, biological, and cultural resources in one of Earth’s most spectacular landscapes. With a long and illustrious 83-year history, MNA evokes the very spirit of the Colorado Plateau, inspiring a sense of love and responsibility for the beauty and diversity of the area.
The Museum is located three miles north of historic downtown Flagstaff, at the base of the San Francisco Peaks on scenic Highway 180, on the way to the Grand Canyon. Admission is $7 adults, $6 seniors, (65+), $5 students, and $4 children (7–17). For further Museum or exhibit information, call 928/774-5213 or visit musnaz.org.
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