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Campus News
Your faculty and staff news since 1965
Current Issue:  June 3, 2002
Volume 37, Number 21

Maxwell showcases Kuna of Panama

Photo by Mari Lyn SalvadorThe Art of Being Kuna exhibition is now at the Maxwell Museum and will be on display for two years. Mari Lyn Salvador, chief curator for the museum, says that the inaugural exhibition of the Alfonso Ortiz Center for Intercultural Studies showcases the type of collaborative exhibitions and range of educational activities that visitors can look forward to in coming years.

The Kuna people live on the Caribbean coast of Panama in an area stretching from Punta San Blas 130 miles to the Colombian border. Living mainly on islands where mountains come down to the sea, the Kuna have struggled for centuries to protect the land and their coastal seas, not only from exploitation from outside forces, but from their own overuse. This care is an integral part of their belief system.

Molas, Kuna women’s traditional blouses, ethnographic objects, photographs, video programs and interpretive text are all incorporated into The Art of Being Kuna. The exhibition presents Kuna ideas about the environment and their beliefs regarding creation and the responsibility of caring for the earth. The exhibit also demonstrates their thoughts about aesthetics and the relationship of beauty and form to political and social organization, family structure and hospitality, and ritual and healing as well as personal expression.

The project, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, was developed by the UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History. From the beginning it has been a collaborative project that involved Kuna artists, cultural specialists and leaders working with anthropologists and members of the staff of the Fowler Museum.

The exhibition is based on field research done by anthropologists over the past 30 years, including the work of Salvador.

The exhibit also draws on the rich collections and research and photographic archives from the 1920s at the Ethnographic Museum in Goteborg, Sweden, the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C., and the Heye Foundation in New York, which has become part of the National Museum of the American Indian.

The second phase, to be unveiled next April, will include healing, ritual and dance, as well as molas that encompass images from outside Kuna Yala, inspired by cards, labels and comic books. A variety of both educational programs and public programs are being designed to enhance the special nature of this project.