The Arts

An Eye for Indigenous Art

Patricia Marroquin Norby MA’01, MFA’02 curates Native American works at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Portrait of Patricia Norby standing in front of a colorful art piece

Norby is amplifying voices that have often gone unheard while providing a venue for individuals to share perspectives. Jeremy Dennis/New York Times/Redux

Patricia Marroquin Norby MA’01, MFA’02 has a theory: “Indians attract Indians.” Especially in urban areas, she believes, Indigenous people seek each other out to build community and create together. Named the inaugural associate curator of Native American art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2020, Norby now has a greater platform to put her theory into practice.

A descendant of the Purépecha, Norby knows how valuable it is to have access to cultural traditions and fellowship. Throughout her time at UW–Madison, Indigenous student organizations welcomed Norby and her son into a supportive, active network. The late Truman Lowe MFA’73, a celebrated Ho-Chunk artist and UW professor, also took Norby under his wing and helped prepare her for her current role.

As a curator, Norby brings together Indigenous art and perspectives, attracting Native and non-Native artists and audiences alike. Her debut exhibition at the Met, Water Memories, was inspired by water’s everyday influence on people’s lives. It displayed a collection of photographs, videos, toys, and more, underscored with personal narratives from Indigenous people reflecting on their relationship with water.

“Everybody has a memory of water, whether it’s a negative, positive, or peaceful memory, or a really fun moment,” Norby says. Oceans, streams, faucets, floods, and droughts shape civilizations, human history, and daily life. “That’s why we have the word memories, because the narrative is framed around very intimate moments — memories that each artist or community had in connection to a work on view.”

Norby is amplifying voices that have often gone unheard while providing a venue for individuals to connect and share perspectives. Grounded in Clay: The Spirit of Pueblo Pottery, on display until June 2024, is the first exhibition at the Met that is entirely community curated. Norby invited 60 members of Pueblo nations to select a collection of historical and contemporary pottery that tells stories on Indigenous people’s terms.

“Indigenous voices have really been pushed to the foreground,” Norby says. “And I just think it’s an incredible time right now.”

Published in the Winter 2023 issue


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