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June 3 – October 1, 2023

Portable Universe

Thought and Splendour of Indigenous Columbia

The culmination of several years of close collaboration between the curatorial team and the Arhuaco community of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta region in northern Colombia, this large-scale exhibition proposes new ways of approaching the world around us and presents a completely new perspective on Colombian art.

Organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Museo del Oro y Unidad de Artes y Otras Colecciones – Banco de la República, Colombia, in collaboration with the MMFA, Portable Universe brings together close to 400 works which reveal the diversity and richness of Colombia’s indigenous cultures. Dating from about 1500 BCE to the present day, most of these works have never been exhibited in Canada.

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A different way of understanding the world and our place in it

With the European conquest, indigenous cultures of the Americas were discredited, and the well-established system to which millions of people turned to understand the meaning of life and existence was reduced to crude superstition. The exhibition attempts to restore a number of these millennia-old teachings by revealing the inherent meaning and spirit of the works. It draws from contemporary indigenous concepts to paint a vision of the world in which ancient works of art are relevant today and in the future.

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A new perspective on Colombian art

The exhibition features some of the most remarkable artworks ever made in Colombia, including intricately cast gold pendants, hammered gold masks, offerings, ceramic effigies of mystical creatures, rare ancient textiles and a series of contemporary watercolours. These works are contextualized with image projections and a soundscape featuring music played on ancient ocarinas. They are therefore not simply material objects but carriers of the memory and energies of ancestral knowledge. Their messages continue to hold great relevance for our world today and lead us to think, among other things, about the interrelatedness between our planet and all the beings that inhabit it.

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Credits and curatorial team

An exhibition organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Museo del Oro y Unidad de Artes y Otras Colecciones – Banco de la República, Colombia, in collaboration with the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. It has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Democracy demands wisdom. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this exhibition do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The exhibition is curated by Diana Magaloni, Deputy Director, and Program Director and Dr. Virginia Fields Curator of the Art of the Ancient Americas, LACMA, Julia Burtenshaw, Assistant Curator – Art of the Ancient Americas, LACMA, María Alicia Uribe Villegas, Director of the, Museo del Oro, Banco de la República, Colombia, and Rex Koontz, Consulting Curator, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Erell Hubert, Curator of Pre-Columbian Art, MMFA, is the curator of the Montreal presentation.

As part of a long-term initiative aimed at fostering cross-cultural dialogue and knowledge exchange, the curatorial team has been working in close collaboration with the Arhuaco community of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, which is actively engaged in the project.

Official Sponsor

Denalt

With support from

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Circular House Model, Colombia, Calima Region, 100 BCE – 800 CE (Yotoco Goldwork Style), tumbaga (gold-copper alloy), 10.8 cm x 10.2 cm. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, gift of Alfred C. Glassell, Jr. Photo © The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Basket-Carrier (Canastero) with Fangs and Serpents, Colombia, Calima Region, 1500 BCE – 100 CE (Ilama Tradition), ceramic, 15.2 x 11.4 x 12.7 cm. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Muñoz Kramer Collection, gift of Jorge G. and Nelly de Muñoz and Camilla Chandler Frost. Photo © Museum Associates / LACMA

Votive Figure (Tunjo) in Form of a Man Seated on a Stool, Colombia, Eastern Cordillera, 800-1600 CE (Muisca Tradition), tumbaga (gold-copper alloy), 10.3 x 5.1 x 1.3 cm. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, gift of Alfred C. Glassell, Jr. Photo © Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Male Figure Container, Colombia, Calima Region, 1500 BCE – 100 CE (Ilama Tradition), slip-painted ceramic, 27.5 x 16.2 x 16.5 cm. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Muñoz Kramer Collection, gift of Camilla Chandler Frost and Stephen and Claudia Muñoz-Kramer. Photo © Museum Associates / LACMA

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