August 12, 2005

Museum of Man Celebrates Anniversary with Exhibits Spotlighting Panamanian Culture

In celebration of its 90th anniversary, the San Diego Museum of Man - which opened in 1915 as part of the Panama-California Exposition - will highlight its enduring connection to Latin American culture with two new exhibits: “Passage to Panama: Past to Present” and “The Art of Being Kuna: Layers of Meaning Among the Kuna of Panama,” both opening Saturday, Aug. 20.

Both exhibits will be open through April, 2006, and will focus on the art and culture of three of Panama’s indigenous groups: the Kuna, the Choco and the Ngöbe.

A highly acclaimed traveling exhibit, “The Art of Being Kuna” was funded with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and developed at the UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History.

The Museum of Man’s executive director, Mari Lyn Salvador, Ph.D., curated this vibrant exhibit, which is being shown in San Diego following a successful national tour which included the UCLA Fowler Museum; the National Museum of the American Indian, New York; the Field Museum, Chicago; and the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The end result of a long-time collaboration between Kuna cultural specialists and anthropologists from around the country, “The Art of Being Kuna” centers on “the importance of form and beauty for the Kuna in everyday life, narratives, ritual and healing and the visual arts,” Dr. Salvador says.

She explains that the Kuna are world-renowned for their “molas,” colorful and richly decorated appliqué blouses hand made by the Kuna women.  An array of these vibrant textiles will be on display at the Museum, and during the exhibition’s opening weekend, Kuna women will offer the public a rare glimpse at the intricate art of mola-making, as well as the opportunity to purchase authentic molas.

In addition to the molas, the exhibit features 300 objects - including baskets, wooden objects and gold jewelry - plus photo panels, video stations and interpretive labels.

Phillips Collection Documents Choco and Ngöbe Cultures

Also featured as part of the Museum’s 90th anniversary celebration is “Passage to Panama,” a collection which documents the culture of the Embera and Wounaan (historically considered one group, the Chocö) from the Darien Rainforest, and the Ngöbe (also known as the Guaymí) from the mountain areas of Chiriqui and Veraguas.

Grace Johnson, the Museum’s Curator of Latin American Collections, developed the exhibition, which is largely derived from the extensive collection of San Diegans William and Evelyn Phillips.

“During the 1950’s, the Phillips traveled throughout Panama, learning about and collecting an array of ethnographic materials and cultural items and taking photographs,” Johnson said.

In 1958, the Museum of Man mounted an exhibition based on their acquisitions, “The Chocö Jungle Hall.” According to Johnson, the Museum’s newest version of this exhibit features more than 200 items from the Phillips collection, plus photographs, and more recent Museum additions.

Located beneath the landmark California Tower in Balboa Park, the San Diego Museum of Man is an educational, non-profit corporation.  As part of the Panama-California Exposition, the Museum exhibited “The Story of Man through the Ages,” as well as artifacts from the Southwest and South America, which became the core of its permanent collections. In late 1915, a group of San Diegans formed the San Diego Museum Association, establishing a museum of anthropology with a collection of more than 5,000 items. In 1942 it was officially named the San Diego Museum of Man.

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