I am finally back as promised with a subject dear to my heart, Native Americans. For as long as I can remember, I've always been fascinated with and in awe of Native American art and culture. Though I should say only art as I didn't know much about their actual culture when I was a kid, all I knew is that the Katchina dolls were the most beautiful things. My parents had a book at home about the Katchinas, a big beautifully printed art book, it was my favourite as a kid. So much so that one afternoon my mum made a little Indian rag doll, I still have it to this day, and it is one of my most precious belongings. For a long time my love for those tribes stayed somewhere in my heart, they were dear to me without really knowing why or even researching to know more.
A little over a year ago now, we stumbled upon an exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery in London of George Catlin's paintings. Catlin travelled and lived with several Native American tribes over the years and painted scenes of everyday life and portraits of tribal Chiefs. He might not be the most incredible of painters, but his portraits are beautiful and more importantly, one of the very few traces we have of those people. He also kept a sort of diary in the form of letters. He knew how important it was to keep a written trace of it all, he knew they were not going to last. His letters are pleas for the White man to understand that Native Americans were not savages, that they were cultured and civilised in a different way. His writings are also a trace of their rituals, their games, their beliefs and their way of life. As a painter he was considered "magic" and was as highly regarded as a Medicine Man by the tribes. It's the highest rank alongside the Chief. That gave him the right to sit and watch secret rituals, some of which were of incredible violence towards one's self. Warriors, to be worthy, were physically tested and put through what was clearly torture. He describes them as proud, brave and strong men with an incredible will and self-control. Far from the drunk, blood-thirsty savage image White people had of them at the time. I couldn't recommend his book , North American Indians, enough if you're interested on the subject, it's an insightful and loving account of who they were, in all their diversity, each tribe being different (some of them were indeed violent warriors, whereas others were completely peaceful. As you can imagine the latter were the first to become extinct.)
All this was a long introduction to the Paris exhibit at the Musée du Quai Branly, Indiens des Plaines. The exhibit doesn't really mention Caitlin, only one of his portraits is featured, as it's all about Native American artefacts. And it's beautiful. It was extremely busy when we went (the first Sunday of the month is free) and we were frustratingly squished between people at the beginning until you arrive in a vast room filled with clothes, objects, weapons, pipes, musical instruments, buffalo skins and magnificent headdresses. Their everyday life objects were all crafted with such care and skill, the bead works aren't famous for nothing!
I had a very special thing for the tambourine with the swallows painted on. They look similar to the one I drew for my tattoo (that gave the name to the blog). I really want to get of those tattooed as well, and have in a way my own Native American tattoo.