Inside USD

Year-long Katsinam Exhibit Begins at USD

Friday, May 29, 2009

katsina-iOriginally Hopi Indian Katsinam (Kachinas) were carved only for Hopi ceremonial purposes and only by Hopi carvers. But today images of the supernatural spirits are found everywhere  from T-shirts to opera sets.

That tension is explored in a new year-long exhibit “Katsina: Commodified and Appropriated Images of Hopi Supernaturals”  at the University of San Diego’s David W. May American Indian Collection and Gallery. Some 30 of the colorful carved figures representing Hopi spirits are included in the exhibit along with posters, novelties, quilts and other items showing their use in popular culture.

Throughout the United States and the world, “portrayals of Hopi spirits abound,” wrote curator Zena Pearlstone in the catalog for the exhibit that first appeared at UCLA.  ”A Hopi artist designs Katsina-like sets and costumes for a production of of Mozart’s ‘Magic Flute’ … a non-Indian from Texas designs a Katsina-patterned silk scarf for Hermes of Paris, Inc. … and Hopi leaders are asked by the U.S. Customs Service to inspect crates for the Philippines marked ‘Hopi Kachina Doll.’”

“Chronicled here is the story — or more accurately, part of the story — of how the supernaturals or Katsinam spirits of the Hopi, a small pueblo nation living in a remote area of Arizona, have become international symbols.”

A review in the Los Angeles Times in 2003 called the exhibit was “exemplary in its sensitvity to meaning’s promiscuity and the  gray areas between authenticity and fraudulence. Its poignancy resides in how effectively it catches viewers in the cross-fire between a venerable tradition and voracious consumerism.”

In addition to the carvings from the UCLA exhibit, the USD exhibit also contains figures from its own May gallery and those from a private collection.

The David W. May American Indian Collection and Gallery includes more than 1,660 artifacts from the Southwest, bequeathed to the university in 1994 by the family of David May, who attended USD before his tragic death at age 22.

Regular hours for the free exhibit are are 1 to 3 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, or by appointment. The exhibit is closed on university holidays. The May Gallery is located in Room 214A in Serra Hall.

— Liz Harman

For more information about the exhibit go to Information in the exhibit was originally published in Katsina: Commodified and Appropriated Images of Hopi Supernaturals, by Zena Pearlstone, UCLA Fowler Muesum of Cultural History, Los Angeles, 2001. The exhibition, which accompanied the catalog, was displayed at the Fowler Museum from August 4, 2002 to March 23, 2003.

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