Indigenous Peoples Through Western Eyes

This past week, we had two sets of visitors interested in the native peoples and cultures of the American and African continents. The first set of visitors were Luz Helena Ballestas Rincón and José Jairo Vargas (professors teaching in the Escuela de Diseño Gráfico de la Universidad Nacional de Colombia). Dr. Ballestas is a specialist in Native American art, having published (and donated to our library) a book on faunal imagery and symbols in the material culture of the indigenous peoples of her native Colombia. She was very interested in a series of New Deal mural studies on display that depicted North American Indians. In anticipation of her library visit, I had pulled a variety of artwork drawing on the material culture of the Navajo, Pueblo, and Blackfeet Indian peoples.

Later in the week, the library hosted a larger group of Sub-Saharan Africans visiting Florida International University as part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders. The Wolfsonian museum collection is primarily focused on the period 1851 through 1945. Given Europe’s political, economic, and cultural dominance in the world in this era, much of what we have related to Africa is focused on military conflicts—such as the South African (or Boer) Wars—and materials documenting Italian colonial ambitions in Ethiopia and Somaliland. Much of our discussion consequently focused on propagandistic images of Africa and Africans produced in the context of colonialism.

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