First Americans

honouring indigenous resilience and creativity

July 10, 2020
End:  July 25, 2021
Genre:  Cultural
Museum Volkenkunde
Steenstraat 1
2312 BS Leiden

In First Americans the central focus is the experience of indigenous North Americans, their creativity and resilience.  In the year of the commemoration planned by Leiden 400 we bring to the fore contemporary artists and their work together with the collections of the museum. 

The arrival of European settlers put indigenous nations under pressure such that community, languages, lifeways and religion were fundamentally changed.  The resilience of indigenous nations has however ensured that indigenous culture continues to thrive. First Americans will feature more than sixty contemporary and historic artworks alongside each other considering a number of themes that highlights indigenous creativity. 

Sixteenth century European prints arising from travel accounts show that indigenous Americans were popularly represented along stereotypical lines. Master printmaker Jacob Meders (Mechoopda/Maidu) made a series of woodcut prints in Leiden as an artist-fellow called Trading Views to respond to these influential images. 

Wampum beads used in regalia have an enduring value for indigenous communities as a medium for social, political and ceremonial communication. However under the influence of early European settlers it was used as money. Out of the Ocean, a wampum belt made by Elizabeth James Perry (Wampanoag), shows the beauty and continuing importance of wampum. 

The photographs of Caro Romero (Chemehuevi) show three confident young women surrounded by cherished cultural accessories created and owned by their community members. These beautiful contemporary photographs reflect pride and the power of tradition. 

Activity and resilience.
In the 1960s and 1970s a new generation of activities arose who came to international prominence. Here we display a belt made of copper Greg Lewis (Pueblo of Acoma) that reportedly came from the copper pipe during the occupation of Alcatraz.

The end of FIRST AMERICANS is outside the museum where visitors can see the mural by Yatika Starr Fields (Osage/Cherokee/Creek-Muskogee). This dynamic and colourful 48 square metre mural springs from a personal expression of  what indigenous resilience means. In thinking through his composition, Fields was inspired by the work Frans Hals. 

Contemporary artwork
First Americans brings together a diversity of indigenous artists across different media. These works purchase or commissioned are combined with a selection of historic works out of the collection, including paintings, clothing, weapons, jewellery and ceramics. 

Contributing artists include: Sonny Assu (Li?wilda?x?w of the Kwakwaka’wakw Nations); Jamison Chas Banks (Seneca-Cayuga-Cherokee),Christi Belcourt, (Mischif), Yatika Starr Fields (Osage/Cherokee/Muscogee-Creek ), Leah Mata Fragua (Northern Chumash), Jason Garcia-Okuu Pin (Santa Clara Pueblo), Steven Paul Judd (Kiowa-Choctaw), Greg Lewis (Acoma Pueblo), Jacob Meders (Mechoopda/Maidu), Shelley Niro (Kanien?kehá?ka), Jamie Okuma (Luiseño/Shoshone-Bannock), Virgil Ortiz (Cochiti Pueblo), Elizabeth James Perry (Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head-Aquinnah), In Progress, Cara Romero (Chemehuevi), Diego Romero (Cochiti Pueblo), Melinda Schwakhofer (Mvskoke and Austrian-American), Skawennati (Kanien?kehá?ka) and Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie (Taskigi/Dine’). In addition to works featured by Nathan Begaye (Hopi Pueblo), Fred Kabotie (Hopi Pueblo), Awah Tsireh (San Ildefonso Pueblo) and Tomas Vigil (Tesuque Pueblo).

Leiden 400
In 2020 Leiden is commemorating the departure of the pilgrims who landed on American shores and established Plymouth colony. Several institutions have planned events including Museum Volkenkunde in Leiden.