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Pictures from the frontier
Native Americans in Brookline, pre-war Baghdad at the ICA, and ‘Critters’ at MIT

Some of our most compelling images of Native Americans and their way of life in the early 20th century — including portraits of Apache chief Geronimo and Chief Joseph of the Nez Percé, and views of Cheyenne warriors on their horses and tribal women making baskets — were taken by photographer Edward S. Curtis, who was born in Whitewater, Wisconsin, in 1868 and who, 30 years later, abandoned a successful career as a portrait photographer in order to try to photograph every tribe in the American West. Between 1900 and 1930, Curtis traveled with unwieldy camera equipment, vehicles, scholars, and researchers, recording dwellings, clothing, ceremonies, religious practices, and much else. Some 2200 of his sepia-toned photogravures were included in his 20-volume work The North American Indian Project, which was published between 1907 and 1930 and provided written information as well as images portraying the traditional customs and ways of 80 tribes.

Through the end of the year, Brookline’s Southwest Northeast Gallery, a new venue for Native American Art in all media, is showing "Edward Curtis: Selected Reproductions from the North American Indian Project," which includes Joel Covitz’s contemporary reproductions of Curtis’s historical works. On December 18, the gallery will hold a special holiday reception to introduce itself and its unusual range of wares: Pueblo pottery, Navajo weavings, and more.

Artist Paul Chan, whose video installation Momentum 5: Paul Chan currently graces the Institute of Contemporary Art’s downstairs gallery (and whose work will be included in the 2006 Whitney Biennial), is also drawn to the frontier. In early 2003, just before the start of the war in Iraq, this Hong Kong–born, New York–based artist traveled to Baghdad with the aid of the group Voices in the Wilderness (formed to pose a non-violent challenge American economic and military activity in Iraq) and created the documentary film Baghdad in No Particular Order (2004), which is being screened at the ICA on December 16. The impressionist film depicts ordinary life in pre-war Iraq; writing in the New York Times, Roberta Smith described it as delivering an "unusually powerful anti-war statement."

Meanwhile, in your own everyday life, if you should find yourself strolling through MIT’s Building 56, look in on the Media Test Wall, which is on view 24/7 and features an excellent changing selection of short contemporary videos. Through December 31, five videos by three artists explore the topic of "Critters": Francis Alys pits man against dog, David Claerbout looks at school children and tree branches, and Sam Easterson outfits a pig, a tarantula, and a chick with video cameras in three short films that show the world from distinctly non-human points of view.

"Edward Curtis: Selected Reproductions" @ Southwest Northeast Gallery, 374 Boylston Street, Brookline | through Dec 31; reception Dec 18: 3-5 pm | 617.738.1699 | Paul Chan’s Baghdad in No Particular Order @ Institute of Contemporary Art, 955 Boylston Street, Boston | Dec 16 @ 8 pm | $7 | 617.266.5152 or http://www.icaboston.org/ | "Critters" @ MIT List Visual Arts Center’s Media Test Wall, Whitaker Building, 21 Ames Street (MIT Building 56), Cambridge | through Dec 31 | 617.253.4400 or http://web.mit.edu/lvac


Issue Date: December 16 - 22, 2005
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