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What’s Wrong With This Diorama? You Can Read All About It

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tags: museums, American Museum of Natural History



On the first floor of the American Museum of Natural History, a diorama depicts an imagined 17th-century meeting between Dutch settlers and the Lenape, an Indigenous tribe inhabiting New Amsterdam, now New York City. It was intended to show a diplomatic negotiation between the two groups, but the portrayal tells a different story.

The scene takes place in what is now known as the Battery, with ships on the horizon. The tribesmen wear loincloths, and their heads are adorned with feathers. A few Lenape women can be seen in the background, undressed to the waist, in skirts that brush the ground. They keep their heads down, dutiful. In front of a windmill are two fully clothed Dutchmen, one of them resting a rifle on his shoulder. The other, Peter Stuyvesant, colonial governor of New Netherland, is graciously extending his hand, waiting to receive offerings brought by the Lenape.

Critics have said the diorama depicts cultural hierarchy, not a cultural exchange. Museum officials said they had been aware of these implications for a while, and now they have addressed them.

The narrative, created in 1939, is filled with historical inaccuracies and clichés of Native representation, said Bradley Pecore, a visual historian of Menominee and Stockbridge Munsee descent. “These stereotypes are problematic, and they’re still very powerful. They shape the American public’s understanding of Indigenous people.”

Read entire article at New York Times

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