On the Trails of the Iroquois

18 October 2013 to 6 January 2014

Poster “On the Trails of the Iroquois”

Exhibition poster “On the Trails of the Iroquois”

Of the hundreds of Native American peoples, only a few have over the centuries engaged the European and Euro-American imagination to the extent that the Iroquois did. This fascination is in a large measure due to the outstanding role the Five (and later Six) Nations played in the arena of colonial encounters in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century North America, which gained them a reputation as fierce warriors and skilled diplomats and is also reflected in a host of fictional literature. But European interest has always far exceeded this pre-occupation with political and military excellence. Western intellectual struggle with Iroquois culture has left enduring imprints not only on the history of anthropology, but also on popular culture, the peace and women’s movements, and even efforts to establish the foundation of alternative lifestyles.

The present exhibition will attempt to trace the development of Iroquois culture from its origins up to its vibrant articulations in the present-day United States and Canada, following their varied history through colonial times characterized by war, trade, and European missionary efforts; the subsequent weakening of their power through loss of land and political autonomy and the eventual break-up of the League after the American Revolution; the cultural transformations during the Reservation period; and their strive for sovereignty in the twentieth century up to very contemporary concerns.

Presenting approximately 500 objects this large-scale exhibition On the Trails of the Iroquois brings together for the first time historical paintings and drawings, precious ethnographic objects, and extraordinary examples of Iroquois contemporary art from major collections in Europe, the United States, and Canada.

Conceived in close cooperation with Iroquois artists, curators, and intellectuals, the exhibition aspires to a multi-layered representation of Iroquois culture as well as contemporary indigenous voices on their history and present-day identities. As Tuscarora artist and writer Richard W. Hill expressed it, “it can safely be said that today, the Haudenosaunee [self-designation of the Iroquois as ‘People of the Longhouse’] define themselves through their diversity”, as each generation “adds to that layered definition, taking the artistic expressions of the past, the oral traditions of their ancestors, and add that to their own life experiences”.

Aside from Prof. Dr. Christian Feest, former director of the Museum of Ethnology Vienna, it was possible to cooperate with important Iroquoian scientists and artists from Canada and the USA, including Dr. Thomas Hill, former director of Woodland Cultural Centre in Brantford, Ontario, and Peter Jemison, manager of the Ganondagan State Historic Site, New York.

The catalogue accompanying the exhibition (published in a German as well as an English edition) provides insights into the historical and cultural context of the exhibits and their makers. In addition, it also highlights the importance of the ethnographic collections held by museums today for an understanding of a fascinating people and their culture. The catalogue is published by Nicolai Verlag Berlin.

Organizer: An exhibition of the Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany, Bonn
Curator: Dr. Sylvia Kasprycki
Exhibition Manager: Henriette Pleiger, Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany, Bonn

With the kind support of the Telekom