For Patricia Marroquin Norby — the associate curator of Native American art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art — water is personal.
And it’s also highly politicized, as her experience as a Native-born American and Indigenous researcher whose curatorial approach is inspired by the original keepers of the land and water, would show.
“Water politics in the Southwest is about who has power,” she said. Marroquin Norby was one of two speakers in Prada’s recurring “Possible Conversations” series, which also counted Kate Orff, founding principal and partner at SCAPE landscape architecture firm. The latest session was called “Shaping Water” and was held at the Prada store in SoHo Tuesday night.
As fashion, in some cases, is prioritizing the importance of Indigenous knowledge, Marroquin Norby offered a timely take as it relates to building acceptance in the art world, which fashion can learn from. Furthermore, sustainable solutions exist within Indigenous communities. She said her role is to create a “welcoming space” for Native Peoples at the Met, bringing in the contemporary works of Shinnecock Nation artist and filmmaker Courtney M. Leonard, Chemehuevi photographer Cara Romero, Ho-Chunk photographer Tom Jones, among others.
“There’s no way my work wouldn’t include the Native People’s [perspectives],” she reiterated. Along with advocating for an “active land and water statement” in the Met (or an acknowledgment of past wrongdoings that pays homage to the original keepers of the land), she gave the audience Native nuance for contextualizing the work of famous painters such as Georgia O’Keeffe.
For one, she argued, O’Keeffe’s paintings are more “politically charged” than portrayed, because of how O’Keeffe urged for her own inheritance over existing inhabitants’ connection to the land. Essentially, she painted New Mexico’s Pedernal Mountain so often, that she was quoted as owning it in a popular quote: “God told me if I painted that mountain enough, I could have it.” Marroquin Norby said this was a way to “visually [appropriate]” the landscape.
Overall, the audience walked away with fresh dialogue and new appreciation for Indigenous knowledge as it relates to solving complex problems like water scarcity as well as the more aesthetic meanings therein.
These nuanced learnings and more were showcased, as Prada’s Possible Conversations aims to shed light on intersections in sustainability, art, fashion and design. The session trailed a nature-themed talk held in September called “Thinking Forests,” that similarly saw a packed room in Prada’s wooden epicenter stage in its SoHo store.