Confluences: An American Expedition to Northern Burma, 1935
April 4 - August 3, 2013
Curated by Erin L. Hasinoff, 2010–12 BGC-AMNH postdoctoral fellow in museum anthropology, in collaboration with BGC graduate students.
"A dialogue about the fieldwork of the various participants who were active in producing a natural history of northern Burma, and, by extension, the world."
In January 1935, the Vernay-Hopwood Chindwin Expedition set out from Rangoon to explore the upper reaches of the “mighty Chindwin River” on behalf of the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). The three-month expedition gathered the museum’s founding biological and anthropological collections from an under researched area to the east of Burma’s border with Assam and to the south of Tibet. Confluences explores the complex social life of this extraordinary enterprise through an assortment of objects that were both carried to the field and collected en route.
Structured as an itinerary, the exhibition reveals working relations among participants of every kind, whose encounters shaped the collections that were to enter the museum. It comprises a compelling selection of the expedition’s ethnological objects and specimens, documentation, photographs, and film footage, drawn together from across various departments of the AMNH and exhibited for the first time. The exhibition includes alternative, contemporary readings of the three-day sojourn among the Nagas as it was depicted in photographs and on film. A “sound collage” by Dr. Sentienla Toy Threadgill, a New York–based Ao Naga ethnomusicologist, made up of interviews and music, accompanies a brief segment of the silent 110-minute expedition film, The Vernay-Hopwood Chindwin Expedition to Northern Burma, 1935. Dr. Threadgill’s piece brings the expedition to the present, moving the film beyond its archival life to address some of the sonic sensibilities and cultural interactions of the Burma–India borderland. Overall,Confluences sets in motion a dialogue about the fieldwork of the various participants who were active in producing a natural history of northern Burma, and, by extension, the world.
In January 1935, the Vernay-Hopwood Chindwin Expedition departed from Rangoon to explore the Chindwin River valley on behalf of the American Museum of Natural History. The party traversed northern Burma, gathering biological specimens and ethnological artifacts for the museum.
This intriguing book includes documentation and photographs made during the journey as well as biographical narratives of its organizers, sponsors, and field scientists. The collected items, personal belongings, provisions, tools, and exchange goods carried by the expedition party tell the story of the participants’ encounters with flora, fauna, landscapes, and people, including the “head-hunting Nagas.” This account offers fascinating details of the expedition’s itinerary, cross-cultural interactions, and exchanges.
Erin L. Hasinoff is a research associate in the Division of Anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) and an adjunct assistant professor in the Museum Studies Program at New York University.
The Focus Gallery presents small-scale exhibitions that are part of an academically innovative project that also includes graduate seminars, public programming, and publications both in print and online. Envisaged as a laboratory, Focus Gallery projects promote experimentation in display, interpretation, and the use of digital media and reflect the BGC’s commitment to exhibitions as integral to scholarly activity.
Basketry Helmet (Hat) with Crest of Hair
Naga, Upper Chindwin, Burma
Bamboo, rattan, orchid skin, goat’s hair, pigment, plant fiber cord
13 x 6 3/8 x 10 1/4 in. (33 x 16 x 26 cm)
Collected by the Vernay-Hopwood Chindwin Expedition in 1935
American Museum of Natural History 70.0/6374
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