Connected \\ February 13, 2019

Not separate from nature

My commute to the museum is a seven-minute walk. I greet my neighbors and pet their dogs in the morning. Some days, I venture on a southern route to gaze at the glistening water or dissipating fog around the Derby Wharf lighthouse. Other days I choose the path through the Salem Common, strolling on dirt paths sheltered by old trees. In those few minutes, I experience the diverse microcosm of Salem: the people, animals, ocean, lighthouse, fog, rocks, grass, trees, cobblestones, houses, fences and streets.


Photograph by Rachel Allen


Photograph by Rachel Allen


Photograph by Rachel Allen

Since working on Nature’s Nation: American Art and Environment, I’ve thought about that walk and my place in the world. When you explore this exhibition, I hope you think about your walks, your sphere. What are the artists communicating about our environment? How do these works challenge your ideas about nature? How do you influence the world around you? Can we do better?

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Subhankar Banerjee, Indian, active in United States, born 1967, Caribou Migration I (Oil and the Caribou, Coleen River Valley), 2002. Digital chromogenic print. Collection Lannan Foundation. © Subhankar Banerjee.

This exhibition aims to reveal the varied ways artists have understood their place in the environment. From the outset, the curators recognized this story could not be told without Indigenous creative expression. As the Mellon Curatorial Fellow, I assisted with the addition of Native American artworks for the PEM show.

Twelve of the 22 works in the show by Native American artists are from PEM’s collection. The first one you will encounter, a delicately carved bear sculpture, accompanies the Land Acknowledgment — a statement that formally recognizes the Indigenous caretakers of the land and serves to show gratitude to Indigenous people of the region as well as their ancestors and future generations.


Northeast artist, probably Pawtucket, Bear sculpture, 16th century. Basalt. Peabody Essex Museum, gift of Miss Bessie Eaton, 1898, E50296. © Peabody Essex Museum.


Tlingit artist, Chilkat blanket (detail), before 1832.Mountain goat wool and cedar bark. Gift of Captain Robert Bennet Forbes, 1832. © 2010 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Walter Silver.

We then reprise a favorite by Nicholas Galanin/Yéil Ya-Tseen (Tlingit/ Unangax) among works by other Tlingit artists, seeing how culture is constantly changing. Later, a landscape diptych by the renowned Kay WalkingStick (Cherokee Nation) offers another look at how we contemplate the beauty of every corner of the world. A jar by a once known A:shiwi (Zuni Pueblo) artist sheds light on long held relationships to water, animals and environmental knowledge.

These artists emphasize our interconnectedness. Nature is not sequestered to the confines of the beach or park, ending at the street. My work on this show reminds me that we are not separate from nature.

Nature's Nation: American Art and Environment is on view at PEM through May 5.

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