Your Favorite Things: Emma Kessler and a Māori Weaving Peg

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Unknown Maori artist, New Zealand. Weaving Peg. Wood and haliotis shell. Raymond and Laura Wielgus Collection, Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana University, 2010.21

Your Favorite Things is a regular feature on our blog where students, staff, and patrons of the museum talk about their favorite objects in the museum’s collection. Today Emma Kessler, curatorial assistant for the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas discusses her favorite object, a Māori Weaving Pin.

Since I was a kid I’ve always loved museums. I love learning about other cultures through the objects they’ve created.

I first visited the Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University on a campus visit while trying to decide where I wanted to attend graduate school. It is safe to say I was impressed with the collection and I was blown away by the objects in the Raymond and Laura Wielgus Gallery of the Art of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas.

To be upfront, my graduate focus is on the art of Polynesia, and I happily admit that my opinions are completely biased, but as far as I am concerned the Polynesian collection is the best in the museum.

My favorite object is a beautiful and unfinished Māori Weaving Peg from Aotearoa (New Zealand). I go back to this object over and over again. I never walk past it without stopping at least for a moment, and if I have a visitor with me I always point it out. Among the Māori, weaving was historically a sacred act carried out by women, and there was great care, attention, and power put into the necessary tools.

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Emma Kessler

I love the history and unique qualities of this object. While it is certainly not the only example of a carved weaving peg, it is one of the most elaborate. The crispness of the carving is the result of metal tools that had only been introduced relatively recently when the weaving peg was created in the 18th century. Its use of interlocking figures, a characteristic of Māori carving, means there is always something new to see and more to look at. I never get bored when spending time with this object.

However, my favorite thing about this weaving peg is the fact that it is unfinished. In a purely visual way, this allows one to see and get a better understanding of how the peg was made. The figures at the bottom have been roughly outlined but are nowhere near the completed intricacy of the figures above them. Through a cultural lens this unfinished quality becomes even more interesting. Every part of the carving process included chants and prayers, imbuing the object with mana, or sacred power, and creating an intense connection between the object and the carver. When the peg’s carver was unable to finish it (perhaps because of illness or death) another carver would not be able to complete it, as the continuity of the ritual had been broken.

Because of objects and histories like this one, the Raymond and Laura Wielgus Gallery has become my favorite space on the IU campus. For me, it is a place to think, reflect, learn, and enjoy.

If you would like to tell us about your favorite object in the museum’s collection contact us at iuam@indiana.edu

Eskenazi Museum of Art Website

 

How An Exhibition Comes Together

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Emma Kessler, curatorial assistant for the Art of Africa, the South Pacific, and the Americas at the Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University

Ever wonder what goes into planning and installing an exhibition at a museum? Today’s blog post answers that question. Emma Kessler, curatorial assistant for the Arts of Africa, the South Pacific, and the Americas, takes us through the process of envisioning and installing the museum’s new Focalpoint exhibition Hats as Materials of Culture on view now through May 7, 2017 in the museum’s third floor gallery of Arts of Africa, the South Pacific, and the Americas.

The Raymond and Laura Wielgus Gallery houses the Eskenazi Museum of Art’s collection of art from Africa, the South Pacific, and the Americas. While the vast majority of the objects in this gallery remain on continuous display, the Focalpoint section features a series of rotating exhibitions. Here we create two or three exhibitions a year on a range of topics. Recent displays include the art of ancient Peru, a look at fakes and forgeries, costumes and ornaments from New Guinea, and an investigation into tradition and authenticity in Native American art.

When deciding on a new Focalpoint exhibition, we first consider whether the topic can be linked to another exhibition, an event occurring on campus, or a new collection that has come to the museum. Our current Focalpoint, Hats: Materials of Culture, corresponds with the course Art, Craft, and Technology in Sub-Saharan Africa, which is being offered by the Department of Art History this spring. Even after the topic was selected, there was still a lot to narrow down. For example, would the exhibition look at one type of material or one kind of technology? One of the ideas I considered was a focus on beadwork. I would have looked at a wide range of objects from across Africa and made by a variety of peoples, but out of a single material—beads.

In preparation for Focalpoint, I put together several proposals, one for each of my exhibition ideas. They included 20 to 30 objects that could be used in the exhibition along with a short paragraph of the ideas and topics that could be addressed. Interestingly, this step in the process often reveals whether or not an exhibition will work. As it turns out, the beadwork idea did not work. While the objects were extremely interesting, they did not work together as well as I had hoped. As it turned out, a different idea worked much better—to create an exhibition centered on a single object type, but featuring a wide range of materials and a number of different techniques. In this case, the object type was hats.

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