The objects in our lives, from phones to tools to clothes to knickknacks, say a lot about how we live. That may seem like a truism to the average American, considering how intrinsic conspicuous consumption of certain labels, brands and objects are to cultural identity. But it’s very subjective — there are always layers and variations in meaning, based on individual experience and context.
That thinking runs parallel to what Dr. Karin Larkin had on her mind when guest-curating The Stories of the Southwest, on display at the Fine Arts Center through Dec. 31. According to Larkin, assistant professor and curator at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs anthropology department, the exhibit should help build fresh perspectives on the FAC’s collection of Spanish colonial Santos and Southwestern indigenous art.
“I was looking for a theme that might pull everything together into something a little cohesive, so it would make the interpretation a little easier,” says Larkin. She was brought in by Joy Armstrong, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the FAC. “A lot of times, especially in Native American cultures, info is passed along through oral tradition, so storytelling seems to be a good overall [unifying theme.]”
But stories change based on the experiences of the storyteller and the needs of the audience. To reflect that, the FAC will be adding more stories about and interpretations of the pieces over the course of the exhibit.
“These objects, their stories change throughout the course of their lives,” she says. “They might have meant one thing in the culture they were being used in, but then it takes on a new [aspect] when it’s added to the museum collection.”
Of course, just because an object can be interpreted many ways doesn’t mean every interpretation is equally useful — Larkin hopes to have the staff of the FAC reaching out to Native American communities to add their perspectives on what’s going on display.
“Certainly their perspective is probably one of the most important if not the most important,” says Larkin. Still, her emphasis is less on the validity of one story over another and more on the fact that stories change over time.
“What we’re trying to show is that all of these stories are important, and all of them add to the life of the object,” she says. “It’s important that we don’t value one [interpretation] at the expense of another.”