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Juana Basilia Sitmelelene, Presentation Basket (Chumash)

Video transcript

we're in the National Museum of the American Indian in New York looking at a beautiful basket that has quite a reputation and for good reason this is a basket that was produced by a Native American woman in California or the city of Santa Barbara is now it was produced at an interesting historical moment so this basket by this Chumash woman was made in the very early 19th century it's important to remember that California at this time was part of New Spain it was a Spanish colony so California was not part of the United States and what we have is the traditional Native American cultures that are there that are responding to the incursion of these Spanish colonialists that are coming up from Mexico and you have all these missions that are being built and so here in this particular one in Southern California you have Chumash woman creating these amazing baskets and they were very well known for their expertise in creating these baskets made of sumac fibers sumac is a weed-like tree but here the fibers are incredibly fine and they have been blowing together so tightly that these baskets are reported to almost to be watertight there are six repeating images around the basket and what they are is the Spanish coat of arms taken from these coins that the artist was using as a model well you can see that there's a crown on top and then there are four interior spaces for instance on the upper left you can see a castle on the upper right a lion but it's so interesting to think about a Native American woman who is producing this kind of basket which is known as a presentation basket that would then have been exported from Southern California down to Mexico City and used as evidence of the good work that the mission is doing among the native populations that is the Christianizing and that this is an area that is now firmly under the Spanish crown there are only six of these baskets that survived and three of them are signed this one itself is not signed but we can identify the specific artist some of them also have inscriptions along the interior and so these really were a type of luxury object that's being made by these too much woman I mean twisted in what this represents politically this basket we think was made between 1815 in 1822 trough the fourth had actually been deposed by Napoleon when Napoleon invaded Spain but this basket was made just as the Spanish were reclaiming the throne and so this would have been very potent symbolism on if we think about California at this time being part of New Spain we're all sort of really important moments there because the war for independence begins in 1810 and they've gained independence from Spain in 1821 so depending upon when this basket was made either right before or just after independence there are a lot of changes going on in this region and so it raises questions about what this basket meant to be made by an indigenous Indian woman in what is now California speaking of loyalty to a European monarch by way of Mexico at a moment when that entire system is being challenged this basket is beautiful it has a very reduced color palette where we have this heraldic imagery taken from the coin the artist has given us a dark background and then woven the imagery in this lighter tan color and so it gives us a beautiful play of dark and light across the inner and outer surfaces of the bowl and the repeated motifs in combination with the circular ribbing of the bowl creates this real sense of energy and movement and spinning so that the in our interior and exterior surfaces are set in motion in a visual sense and what's also amazing is that we are able to associate this basket with this core group of women based on the style of it we mean we're used to creating baskets as export items they were often creating them and then treating them with other people in the local area or even beyond that we have women artists who are producing these objects that were so highly valued and being sent across these large distances you [Music]