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We had pre-announced this exhibition on our “Events in Europe” page. Since the text contains very interesting information about the work of Edward Curtis, we have archived the previous announcement here.

The North American Indian – Fascination and staging in the photographies of Edward Curtis

September 27th 2020 – March 14th 2021

Kultur- und Stadthistorisches Museum Duisburg, Germany

On September 27th 2020 the City Museum of Duisburg, Germany opens its new temporary exhibit titled “The North American Indian – Fascination and staging in the photographies of Edward Curtis.”

With astounding perseverance and often precarious funding American photographer Edward Curtis created an unparalleled life’s work. The highlights of his photographing activity from 1907 to 1930 were published in 20 volumes with accompanying portfolios.
The City Museum of Duisburg exhibits 47 originals from the only complete set of volumes in Europe housed in the Göttingen State and University Library in Lower Saxony, Germany.
Curtis’ photographs were so influential, that he contributed a great deal to the mental image people all over the world have of the native peoples of North America. He gave a silent dignity to the faces looking back at us from sepia-colored shots. However he also implemented many tricks to make his models appear mystical, foreign and fascinating to us.
Curtis tried to document everything “indian”, before it got crushed under the wheel of civilization. However, in doing so he often had to stage the very scene he wanted to preserve for future generations before he could take the shot.
Along with the original photographs the exhibit will show examples of the specific German perspective on Native Americans which is still influenced by a colonial mind set but lacks the experience of actual colonizing in the Americas. The romanticized stereotypical perspective is contrasted with examples of current Native cultural self-expression ranging from music and film to fashion, art, dance and sports.
The exhibit highlights the differences between cultural regions in North America such as the Prairie, the Pacific North-West and the South-West. It becomes clear that our mental image of the American Indians as a homogenous culture is made up of elements from many different cultures.
Most of the photographs shown are portraits. The people in them seem to look at the visitor and tell them their story. Aside from that traditional handicrafts, ritual dances and landscapes are shown as well. What Curtis deliberately left out of the picture are the negative effects of colonization such as poverty, loss of cultural identity and trauma.
The “cube” in the middle of the exhibit breaks with Curtis’ portrayal of the “North American Indian” by focusing on the German perspective and Native self-expression respectively. Additionally visitors can listen to music by Floyd Red Crow Westerman and A Tribe Called Red on head phones and color pictures of North-West Coast formline designs to experience the diversity of Native American cultures hands on. The goal of the exhibit is to show that Native American cultures are very much alive, albeit sometimes different from what the average German expects. 

Links and points of contact

Kultur- und Stadthistorisches Museum Duisburg (City Museum of Duisburg, Germany)

Exhibit: “The North American Indian – Fascination and staging in the photographies of Edward Curtis.”