A:shiwi Map Art

The A:shiwi have always had maps. We have maps in songs and prayers, painted on ceramics, and etched in stone. Our maps aid our memories and give reference to our places of origin – places we have visited, and places we hope to go. Names of places within our territory have been passed down from generation to generation, but in the past 500 years we have been re-mapped. What was once known as Sunha:kwin K’yabachu Yalanne is now called the San Francisco Peaks and many people now call Heshoda Ts’in”a … Pescado. However, there is an Indigenous mapping movement growing around the world reinforcing Indigenous knowledge of ancestral lands and describing the world as cultural landscapes. Through the A:shiwi Map Art initiative, the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center is helping to advance this movement and reverse certain distortions of Zuni history.

The A:shiwi Map Art collection is an art, language and place name project all in one. Sixteen Zuni artists were commissioned to create paintings representing significant Zuni landscapes and places. 

Initially, Zuni advisors got together to decide what would be culturally appropriate to include within the maps and what would not. They then developed lists of potential places they thought Zuni community members should be familiar with and visited these places along with the artists, providing them with history and context that enriched the artist’s knowledge about the sites they were commissioned to represent. The result is a collection of thirty-one paintings in-service to the Zuni community and the larger world; a tool to help our community to connect to our places through artistic renderings of Zuni cultural landscapes. 

A:shiwi Map Art is a collective, revisionist effort to elaborate Zuni history and cultural survival independent from the non-Zuni narrative, using Zuni language and Zuni aesthetics and sensibilities. These maps help us understand where we came from and why Zuni culture is associated with places far away from our reservation. They also harness the capacity of visual art to communicate the importance of Zuni cultural landscape in perpetuation of community vitality and values. Finally, as tools that help set the record straight, these maps serve as a means to mutual understanding by asserting that we live in a world with diverse ways of knowing.

Shalako Film Remade

The Shalako Film Remade is a collaboration between the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center (AAMHC) and the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York that consists of the repurposing and re-interpretation of the silent film The Shalako Ceremonial at Zuni, New Mexico, made in 1923 by filmmaker Owen Cattell under the direction of the AMNH. As the title indicates, the film is about Shalako – the sacred Zuni religious ceremony – and refers to a historical turning point for Zunis over the use of documentary media by outsiders. In response to making of the film, no filming or recording of Zuni ceremonies would ever be allowed at Zuni again, and many other Indigenous communities followed with similar decrees. This event marked a turning point when Zunis began shaping the fields of ethnography and visual anthropology.

The origins of this project began in 2012 when a group of Zuni religious leaders and part of our staff were shown the film during a collection review at the American Museum of Natural History. The reaction of the group while viewing the film was, and continues to be, complex. Besides the fact that the film should never have been made, it reveals some esoteric ceremonial scenes and misrepresents the ceremony with incorrect inter-titles and sequences of events. The inaccurate and inappropriate original film is in public domain and has been digitized, which raises concerns about circulation and control over the dissemination of the controversial footage. We cannot realistically stop distribution of open source films when they are digitized, so we decided on another approach. 

A man steps in front of the camera, blocking the recording.

In 2013, we came to an agreement with the AMNH and were able to remake the film using a digital copy. We added our own inter-titles to correct the misrepresentation, included Zuni language voice-over in order to control the message and provide contextual information to the images, and edited out some parts of the film that should not be seen by non-Zuni and even by non-initiated Zuni members. Essentially, through The Shalako Film Remade, the AAMHC is asserting control over the message and representation of Zuni visual culture held in museum archives.

The next step of this project is to engage the field of ethnographic film by making a documentary about the process of the campaign that the AAMHC undertook to remake the Shalako Film. One of the main purposes of this documentary will be to raise questions around access, control, and circulation of misinterpreted culturally sensitive images within digital contexts. 

Amidolanne Collections Database

Pictured is a quick presentation to staff and educators contributing to Salmon Ruins.
Pictured is a quick presentation to staff and educators contributing to Salmon Ruins.

Amidolanne (rainbow), or Zuni Consolidated Collections System, is a digital platform that brings together information about Zuni objects from collections held in external museums worldwide, to unite in a shared database based and maintained at Zuni, where Zuni members can add their own comments and corrections–using text, videos, and/or recordings–to the original descriptions attached to each object, as well as control what information to share back with the host museums. We were driven by the hypothesis that non-tribal museums and Zunis describe objects differently, since they understand the world according to different systems of knowledge. 

We were able to corroborate this hypothesis during a visit AAMHC and Zuni representatives made to the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (MAA) at Cambridge University, where we found that all the descriptions attached to Zuni objects within the museum catalog were inadequate. Many of them were incorrect, and in some cases there was no information at all provided about the objects. The findings obtained during the MAA visit reaffirmed the idea that Zuni and museum experts describe objects in a different way, and moreover, the way museum experts describe Zuni objects is in most cases incorrect according to Zuni.

This collaborative catalog retains how objects are identified in the language of the museums, but it also adds the voice of the Zuni describing contextual uses of the same objects and adding personal narratives, reflecting the contextual authenticity and biographical diversity of Zuni objects.

The museums that are currently collaborating with this initiative are the Museum of Archeology and Anthropology at the University of Cambridge, England; the National Museum of Ethnology in Osaka, Japan; the American Museum of Natural History in New York; the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff; the Maxwell Museum at the University of New Mexico; the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, and the Denver Art Museum.