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Privileging the Past: Reconstructing History in Northwest Coast Art

Privileging the Past: Reconstructing History in Northwest Coast Art

By University of Toronto Press

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By Judith Ostrowitz
UBC Press

What makes Northwest Coast Native American art authentic? And why,when most of art history is a history of the avant-garde, is tradition so deeply valued by contemporary Native American artists and their patrons? In Privileging the Past Judith Ostrowitz approaches these questions through a careful consideration of replicas,reproductions, and creative translations of past forms of Northwest Coast dances, ceremonies, masks, painted screens, and houses. Ostrowitz examines several different art forms -- two very different architectural constructions, a dance performance, and modern sculptures and dance paraphernalia -- considering their relations to arts of the past.

Ostrowitz draws on an extensive body of interviews she conducted with tribal leaders, artists, and artisans long known and highly respected in both Native and non-Native venues. Throughout the book, we hear their voices -- members of the Alfred, Cranmer, Hunt, Tallio and Webster families, and many other individuals -- as they relate the irresponses to the modern adaptation of their cultural heritage.

Privileging the Past explores intellectual issues raised by postmodern theory, supported by detailed studies of projects that will interest a broad audience of students, historians, museum-goers, and those intrigued by Native American art and cultural history.


Judith Ostrowitz is an art historian and mixed media artist living in New York. She is a lecturer at Yale University, has taught at Columbia University, and is a former assistant curator at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Among her publications is a contribution to Chiefly Feasts: The Enduring Kwakiutl Potlatch.


"Ostrowitz’s emphasis on how Natives of the Northwest Coast continually reconstruct history in their visual culture is an important contribution to the fields of art history, anthropology and Native studies."  Lianne McTavish, Acadiensis

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