This exhibition was on display from October 05, 2018 to June 16, 2019.

There were 83 objects in this exhibition but right now we can only show you 73 of them. Some objects may not be viewable because they were on loan; this might be due to issues involving image rights or simply because there is no digitized image for the objects.

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For as long as humans have been on earth, they have shared their space with birds. For many indigenous cultures, birds possessed a connection to the spirit world through their access to flight, and today birds have come to embody whole societies, serving as symbols of creation stories and patriotic pride. They allow us to examine humanity's complex relationship with the natural world, a history forged from fruitful bonds and shattering conflict.

I have centered this exhibition around the story of the Aztec ruler Moctezuma II's private aviary, which housed thousands of birds from across the Americas in the city-state of Tenochtitlan. Following the capture of Tenochtitlan by the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés and his soldiers in 1521, the aviary and all its inhabitants were burned. In this historic moment, the human impulse to collect and understand nature was overpowered by the human drive to also conquer and destroy.

I used this tragic account as the context with through to explore the Smithsonian collections at Cooper Hewitt and the National Museum of Natural History, and as an impetus to reflect upon the consequences and lessons that emerged. Through a selection of design objects, bird specimens, and rare books spanning several centuries and media, I invite visitors to consider how culture, design, technology, and the natural world have converged throughout history. In a multiplicity of ways, birds have inspired us to access our imagination, our capacity to visualize, invent, and create a future for our environment and ourselves.

—Rebeca Méndez

This object has not been digitized yet.
  • Stool, Strata Drum, 2018
  • sand, silica, crystal quartz, glass, rock salt, porcelain.
  • Courtesy of Fernando Mastrangelo Studio.
  • 114.2018.1
  • Stool, Strata Drum, 2018
  • sand, silica, crystal quartz, glass, rock salt, porcelain.
  • Courtesy of Fernando Mastrangelo Studio.
  • 114.2018.2
This object has not been digitized yet.
This object has not been digitized yet.
This object has not been digitized yet.
  • RoboBee (USA), August 2012
  • flight muscles: piezoelectric ceramic, carbon fiber, and alumina ceramic;....
  • Gift of Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
  • 2015-23-1
  • Falcon's Hood, early 17th century
  • label: tooled leather, silk velvet embroidered with metallic yarns and metal....
  • Museum purchase through gift of Elsie De Wolfe.
  • 1950-90-1