Exploring Authenticity in American Indian Art at the First Americans Festival




Delgado-Simmons, Rachel

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This is a study in which an attempt was made to develop the models or descriptors that aid in the identification of “authenticity” for selecting the art objects used in a festival. The selected festival in this study was the First Americans Festival that was held in the celebration of the grand opening of the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) in Washington, D.C. At the outset, the application of the term, “authenticity,” was found to be rather loose and upon further exploration of its uses, two models appeared. The two models were identified as “traditional” and “salvage.” The term “tradition” was applied to the first model in which there was agreement between the Indians and non-Indians in the selection of articles that were considered “authentic.” This model includes American Indian art created with materials, methods, and techniques of the past regardless of being developed by outsiders, non-Indian philanthropists, or identified tribes. The second model, known as the “salvage paradigm” is a description that is applied, according to scholars, to the rescuing of a subordinate group by a more dominant one. Here in this study, the focus is on a t-shirt, created by a renowned American Indian artist which eventually became the most desired item at this NMAI Festival. It will also be shown that this model can be reversed and deployed by Indian artists in ways that open new possibilities to a variety of cultural interpretations and challenge the notion of “authenticity.”



Authenticity, Festival, Ethnography, American Indian, Art, Anthropology