First Americans at Museum Volkenkunde

Despite all the precautions due to Covid19, we enjoyed a lovely opening of our most recent project, First Americans at the Museum of Ethnology in Leiden. The exhibition is a contribution to –or answer to – the Pilgrim Year of the city of Leiden, in which the “pilgrim fathers” who founded one of the first colonies in British America via the Netherlands, are put in the spotlight. However, this exhibition looks at America from the eyes of the indigenous peoples who inhabit North America, both now and then. Contemporary art displays of the indigenous experience are presented in two long galleries along with collection from the museum, with an emphasis on resilience and self-determination. We learn that Native Americans are taking control of their own story and that they will never stop protecting their country, their culture, and their sovereign status.

Todd van Hulzen Design supplied the architectural design, and together with Rob Meerman and Leanna McAlpine also the graphic design. With a limited space and a modest budget, we have brought the themes to life with colour and pattern, without being overly dominant. Instead of fighting the narrow length of the gallery, we used the motif of a beaded belt to guide the visitor through the long story.

First Americans is an expo that focuses on the experiences, resilience and creativity of the indigenous people of North America. Since the arrival of the European settlers, the language, art, lifestyles and religion of the indigenous communities have been under pressure. Thanks to their resilience and creativity, indigenous communities are still thriving.

No less than 60 objects are shown in First Americans on the basis of various themes. A mix of contemporary art, photography, fashion by indigenous artists and the historical museum collection, such as clothing, drawings, weapons, jewellery, ceramics, photography and utensils.