Sunday, August 4, 2013

Review of On the Trails of the Iroquois Exhibition, in Germany

Prof.  Wolfgang Hochbruck, of the English and North American Studies department of the Department of English / North American Studies at Albert Ludwigs University in Freiburg visited the exhibition "On the Trails of the Iroquois" in Bonn -- the exhibit (as per my prior post) is soon to open in Berlin. 

He has given me permission to post his review of the exhibition, which was posted in the American Indian Workshop listserv.

I saw this exhibition with my 11-year old son yesterday in Bonn -- a four-hour trip each way, but worth the time and the effort at least for me: this is easily the most comprehensive collection and presentation of things Haudenosaunee ever to be seen in Germany so far. Or elsewhere, for that matter.
The fact that the Seneca Art Project in the 1930s left so many reconstructions and reminiscences of earlier arts and crafts is of course an historical factor that aided the curators, but the wide variety of artefacts and documents brought together from North America and a variety of European countries including Russia is still amazing.
There are a number of gems and rarities -- the Iroquoian show troupe members on 1920s postcard photographs from Munich, all decked out in the obligatory 'indian' headdresses. The treaty of 1701 at the end of the Beaver Wars and the years of fighting the French. 
 Some items remain puzzling -- are the bows and arrows sports and childrens' toys? With their wooden tips they couldn't have been used for serious hunting. A bit more on military strategies might have been helpful to explain, how and why the Iroquois managed to keep their position of power between the Colonial forces for so long. Their early acquisition of guns from the Dutch, and formation of rifle units. Or else the fact that in Pontiac's Rebellion Iroquoian and Wendat/Huron fight side by side, but then the whole topic of trans-tribal alliances still needs research. And i might have provided a couple of old copies of the Akwesasne Notes. 
Never mind. 
The exhibition is quite big anyway -- anyone wanting to see everything in detail should count on at least three hours, and allow for breaks. And unfortunately, the whole setup and layout is a lot more scholarly and conservative than the Iroquoian warrior and his graphic-story background at the entrance makes one assume: There is very little for even an interested 11-year old to keep his attention focused for hours and hours of showcases upon showcases and gargoylish museum wardens to ward him off any painting that he came closer to than a foot-length distance -- maybe, upon second thoughts, it is a good idea that the measly museum shop did not sell replicaed war clubs (but all sorts of junky books and movies, and the very detailed and highly recommendable catalogue only in German). 
It is to be hoped that the traditional-style Longhouse erected outside on the premises somehow goes along to Berlin; it is absolutely magnificent and for once kids can sit on the mats and touch things - if they still dare to do that after the experience in the museum. Also, the Bonners charged extra for a visit inside; not a nice move after you have shelled out 16.- € for two family members already. 
Summary: definitely worth the visit, but as an educational experience more arduous than would have been absolutely necessary.


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