on November 16, 2010
Museum of Anthropology (MOA) at the University of British Columbia displays a rich collection of artefacts and artworks of Canadian indigenous inhabitants (particularly the First Nations of the Pacific North West) as well as major ethnographical collections from other world cultures. Museum of Anthropology is a major visitors' attraction in Vancouver as well as an important research and teaching institution, being a part of UBC and in fact located on the campus. The MOA's building is a purpose-built, strikingly modern construction designed by Arthur Erickson inspired by post and beam architecture of the Pacific West Coast (although built mostly of concrete). There is quite a bit of woodland nearby and around the MOA, and recently a reflecting pool has been added in front of the building. .The highlight of the collections, and the natural focus of the most visitors' interest are the examples of native art from the British Columbia's coastal nations. The Great Hall has numerous examples of totem poles from Haida and other coastal nations, and there are also many works by Musqueam artists. Outside, there is an area modelling a Haida village, with several buildings (houses, mostly) and totem poles that look wonderful against the backdrop of the mountains and the sea. Of all the First Nation art objects in the Museum, the best known is The Raven and the First Men by Bill Reid, a cedar-wood sculpture depicting a creation myth from the Haida folklore. This iconic sculpture is surrounded by lesser works by Bill Reid, and just outside the gallery in which it's displayed, there is Nicholas Galanin's Raven and the First Immigrant – a purposefully crude reflection, and juxtaposition carved by a non-Native sub-contractor, looking in from outside at the technical perfection epitomised by the classic Bill Reid's work. This is a powerful commentary on the canons and conservatism of "folk art" and an important voice in the discourse of authenticity and the essence of art and artistry, craft and craftsmanship, and the tension between the two. It's in such exhibits, as well as some excellent temporary shows that MOA shows its own intellectual class and ambition to be more than an ethnographic collection of objects defined as pure, original and traditional and to recognise the fluid borders between 'mainstream' art, folk or 'traditional' crafts and utilitarian/commercial design. But there is also a lot of exploration of cultural and social history with which the art (especially art produced by the indigenous creators, whether it is pure and traditional and technically perfect or not) is inevitably entangled. The history of the potlatch (which was banned until the 1950s) is a telling way in which a politics of colonialism influence and often hinge on cultural imperialism. The colonists not only take the land and its resources, but also have to establish their moral if not legal right to do so by assert their cultural superiority and the (moral) inferiority of the art and customs of the subjugated nations: they used to call it the White Man's Burden. In addition to the First Nations' collections, MOA also has a huge Asian collection, with valuable textiles, sculpture and many other artefacts shown in the numerous display cases in the central section of the Museum. There is also an outstanding ceramics gallery, as well as masses of objects from other cultures from the Pacific to African. Much more than just an ethnography collection, Museum of Anthropology (MOA) at the University of British Columbia stands at the crossroads of mainstream and folklore, art and craft, history and sociology to be a true forum for the exploration of the human cultures and it's a must-see destination for any visitor to Vancouver even remotely interested in those subjects.
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