ON THE TRAILS OF THE IROQUOIS
22 March to 4 August 2013 | 18 October 2013 to 6 January 2014 in Berlin
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 preoccupation with political and military excellence, and 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 lifestyes.
As a horticultural people, whose women planted corn, beans and squash on clearings in the forest and whose men supplemented their diet by hunting and fishing, the Iroquois lived in villages of bark-covered longhouses occupied by extended families at the time when the Dutch and French advanced into the interior of North America in the first half of the seventeenth century. But as implied in their self-designation “Haudenosaunee”, the Iroquois were 'People of the Longhouse' in more than this practical sense: Their intertribal confederation was likewise metaphorically referred to as a Longhouse, in which the Mohawks and Senecas assumed the role of Keepers of the Eastern and Western Doors and the Onondagas were Keepers of the Central Fire; between them, as Younger Brothers, sat the Oneidas and Cayugas. The founding of the League under the Great Law of Peace had ended previous intertribal warfare and by uniting the strengths of the five groups (who were joined aound 1722 by the Tuscaroras as the sixth member) provided the basis for Iroquois territorial expansion and military ascendancy over their indigenous neighbors.
The present exhibition will attempt to trace the develoment 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.
Bringing together for the first time art and artifacts from major collections in Europe, the United States, and Canada and conceived in close cooperation with Iroquois artists, curators, and intellectuals, the exhibition aspires to a multi-layered representation of both Western appropriations and imaginings 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 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.” This large-scale exhibition aims to portray this diversity and the Iroquois people's continuous creative adaptations to ever-changing living conditions over time, presenting approximately 500 objects on about 1600 square meters of representative exhibition space (in addition to parts of the 9000 square meters roof garden) at the Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany in Bonn.
The catalogue accompanying the exhibition (to be published in a German as well as an English edition) will provide insights into the historical and cultural context of the exhibits and their makers. In addition, it will also highlight the importance of the ethnographic collections held by museums today for an understanding of a fascinating people and their culture.