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"The American Indian: Art and Culture between Myth and Reality" on view at De Nieuwe Kerk
Pair of moccasins (Menominee), 19th century. Museum für Völkerkunde, Vienna.

AMSTERDAM.- De Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam is presenting an exhibition about the artistic traditions of American Indians, the indigenous peoples of the North American continent. Exploring seven different regions, the exhibition paints a picture of the rich and diverse arts and cultures of these Native American peoples. More than two hundred works of art and artefacts transport visitors to the prairies of the Midwest, the plains around the Great Lakes, the shores of California, Canada’s west coast, and the homes of the Navajo and the Inuit.

There is no such thing as a typical American Indian. For centuries, the term has been used to refer to all the many Native peoples of the Americas. In North America, there are more than 500 indigenous nations with their own languages, artistic traditions, and cultures, reflecting different geographical contexts and climates.

The exhibition illustrates the beauty and diversity of Native American art with a number of art and craft traditions, each rooted in a single region: porcupine quill embroidery from around the Great Lakes, historical painting from the prairies, ceramics from the pueblos of the Southwest, baskets from California, wood carvings from the Northwest coast, sculpture from the Arctic north, and Navajo textiles. Within these themes, the exhibition focuses on how traditions are passed down and their influence on today's Native American artists.

The earliest contacts between Northern Europeans and the North American Indians also are covered in the exhibition. The story begins with the Schagen letter of 1626, a famous document from Dutch archives (Nationaal Archief Den Haag) recording the purchase of Manhattan from the Indians for sixty guilders. In the United States, this document is well known as the city of New York’s birth certificate, and is the earliest document relating to the city. Dutch images of American Indians, including all the clichés and stereotypes that have formed over time, also are examined.

The exhibition was organized in close cooperation with guest curator David Penney, a specialist in Native American Art and the Associate Director of Museum Scholarship at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC. This museum was established in 2004 on the initiative of the United States Congress and will be one of the major lenders to this exhibition.

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