Regardless of the subject matter, the responsibility of a curator and host institution lies in the fact that the exhibition or presentation may be a visitor's only contact with that information. In terms of encountering a culture for the first, and perhaps only time, every detail, every nuance, every artifact should be carefully selected, thoroughly researched, displayed accurately and representative of the distinctive qualities of that culture.
Fieldwork, the primary research tool of the anthropologist, allows us to immerse ourselves in a social setting to learn and understand how people live - their physical, geographic and ecological worlds, spiritual and aesthetic realms, and social and economic spheres.
My fieldwork has taken me all over Mexico, to tiny villages in Greece, Brazil, the Philippines, Poland and the Ukraine, ethnic neighborhoods of New York and San Francisco and to extended stays in Peru, Ecuador, Israel and the Caribbean. In these places, my goal has always been to see and experience how people live in their traditional settings. It is always an extraordinary moment when people open their doors and hearts to an outsider.
In 1999, my friend and fellow anthropologist Amanda Parsons and I visited a Kayapo Indian village in Brazil as part of our research for Miami Children's Museum exhibition Ports of Call: BRASIL! As awkward as it felt to pull out a camera after only being there two days, the Kayapo leaders, called caciques, agreed to let us film the amazing Takak naming ceremony. The Kayapo are extremely territorial and proud. Until the 1970s, they and other indigenous groups in the immediate area engaged in a traditional inter-group warfare that claimed lives each year. After a few more days, many adults and children made by feel welcome by following us everywhere, poking fun at our ridiculous clothing, teaching us Kayapo words for animals and ultimately, showing us the kind face of the Kayapo.