New York City is home to many art venues, and none come as big as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which has hosted several significant pieces for decades.
Water Memories is the latest exhibit to grace the halls of the esteemed museum, featuring works from Native American talents. Among its pieces, a denim jacket stands out as the centerpiece of the exhibit.
The jacket on display is a Wrangler knock-off that has been customized with sleeves and the waist embezzled with lines of blue beads. The jacket also features a red felt thunderbird on its back.
The curious apparel was placed at the center by Patricia Marroquin Norby.
Norby made headlines in 2020 when she became the first employee of Indigenous descent, the first of her people to step into the halls of the 150-year-old museum as a full-time employee.
Water Memories is an exhibit that displays pieces emphasizing the importance and significance of water to Native American tribal nations, an important asset seen in the artworks.
“The thunderbird is a sacred image to the Anishinaabe people,” said Norby. “It actually represents a thunder cloud.”
Norby explained that the jacket’s beads and thunderbird were added by a 19 year old Rick St. Germaine with the help of Saxton St. Germaine, his mother. The beads represent water droplets, explained the curator.
St. Germaine put the jacket on during the Native American Occupation in Wisconsin at the Water Dam in the early years of the 1970s.
Norby first saw the jacket in a small museum and was immediately drawn to it. She felt that it was important the jacket be displayed in the exhibit so different Americans could see the representation they deserve while showcasing how the art speaks to the people’s activism around water.
Water Memories is not the first time Native American art was displayed in the museum. Years earlier, it joined an exhibit alongside works from Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America.
In 2017, Charles and Valerie Diker promised the MET gifts, donations, and loans from their collection, presenting the opportunity to move the Native American to its rightful place – the American Wing.
The exhibit not only serves as a way to showcase Native American art but also tells a story.
“As you go through the exhibition, you’ll realize what we are doing is creating a current, a stream of stories and memories,” explained Norby.
“I want people to leave with the understanding that we all have a role in protecting freshwater sources,” said Norby. “That we all have intimate ties to water, and that without fresh water, we will not survive.”