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Horse power: The entrance to the new Native American art exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum features Charles Cary Rumsey’s “The Dying Indian” statue in front of a modern mural that reads, “I’m gonna
run with every minute I can borrow.” Photo by Rose Adams
Exhibit contrasts art by, and art about , indigenous Americans
COURIER LIFE, FEBRUARY 21-27, 2020 41
HBy Rose Adams e’s giving us a fresh look at old
A Native American artist
is using centuries-old sculptures and
artifacts from the Brooklyn Museum’s
collection to weave a new story about
indigenous people. “When Fire is Applied
to a Stone it Cracks,” on display at the
Brooklyn Museum until 2021, juxtaposes
stereotypical portrayals of American
Indians with colorful new art by artist
Jeffrey Gibson to show that Native
Americans are a vital, living community,
the show’s curator said.
“He’s looking at history and the
way history has been told and telling a
counter-narrative,” said Eugenia Tsai.
The show opens with a well-known
piece from the Museum’s collection:
Charles Cary Rumsey’s 1904 sculpture
“Dying Indian,” which features a slumped
figure on an emaciated horse. Gibson
created a pair of moccasins and slipped
them onto the bronze figure, which gives
the morbid piece a lively pop, and placed
it in front of a vibrant mural of modern
Throughout the show, Gibson’s
brightly-colored sculptures, weaving, and
stained glass contrast with the European
art’s focus on death and decline.
“There was this whole trope of the
‘dying Indian’ and this image perpetuated
by Europeans and Americans that Indians
were a dying race,” said Tsai. “One of the
things Jeff is doing is working against
The exhibit also highlights pottery
and photographs by Native Americans,
demonstrating the wide variety of
indigenous art, Tsai explained.
“People seem to have an idea of how
Native American art should be, and
Gibson really wants to show its variety
and that it’s always been hybrid, it’s
always been contemporary ,” she said.
Gibson, who has Choctaw and
Cherokee heritage, took the show’s
name, “When Fire is Applied to a
Stone it Cracks,” from an Irish proverb.
The fire represents Native American
innovation, while the stone is the static
stereotypes created by Europeans,
“I read ‘fire’ in this quote to describe
the innovative making, use of materials,
transformative techniques, and the
survivalist ethic of Indigenous people,”
The show critiques traditional
portrayals of Native Americans, but it
does not seek to shame or chastise the
non-Native works, Tsai clarified. Instead,
it showcases the power and life within
Native American art and communities,
“Images of joy, images of happiness,
images of community and family where
subjects weren’t posing for the camera
but maybe were caught in their daily
lives — that can be a powerful form of
resistance,” she said.
“When Fire is Applied to a Stone it
Cracks” at the Brooklyn Museum 200
Eastern Pkwy. at Washington Avenue in
Prospect Heights, (718) 638–5000, www.
brooklynmuseum.org. On display Wed–
Sun; 11 am–6 pm through January, 2021.
$16 suggested admission.