The new exhibition organized by the Hermann Geiger Cultural Foundation, Natives. Trailing the peoples of the Great Plains, intends to raise awareness of the history and cultures of Plains Native Americans, with a special focus on the Lakota Sioux Nation.
By displaying valuable ethnographic materials from international museums and private collections, the exhibition presents to the public a reconstruction of the traditional Native American way of life before the establishment of Indian reservations, and describes the organization of society as well as the composition of tribes and villages.
In the framework of the exhibition, the Geiger Foundation has organized a programme of lectures on several topics related to Native North American lifestyles and cultures.
Through the story of Crazy Horse and of the great chiefs and protagonists of the conflict with the white man, the exhibition covers the dramatic historical period that goes from Red Cloud’s War to the Black Hills War, from Little Bighorn to Wounded Knee.
Tomahawks, bows, arrows, spears, shields, and knives, but also the early firearms of the legendary Far West, tell us about the traditional activities of the Plains Natives, namely hunting and war. Also on show is a fascinating selection of beautiful, huge eagle feather war bonnets and ritual headdresses. Besides, the exhibition includes artefacts associated with the female world as well as traditional Lakota garments, such as parfleches, shirts, moccasins, and bags decorated with beadwork and porcupine quills. Special attention is devoted to the relationship with the horse and the buffalo, a sacred animal to the Plains Indians, who depended on it for their survival.
A key aspect of the exhibition is the spirituality of the natives and their particular world view where everything is governed by the Great Spirit and all living creatures are inextricably tied and interdependent. From this stems the sacredness of hunting and of all other human activities, as well as the natives’ complex, fascinating rituals and their respect for all forms of life. The pieces on show include rare traditional objects used by the Lakota people during religious ceremonies, the sun dance and the purification ceremony, and a selection of beautiful ritual pipes.
A perfect example of adaptation to harsh, if not extreme, living conditions, Native Americans were, and still are, bearers of a very different vision of the relationship between human beings and their environment as compared to the West. From the mid-19th century onwards, social organization and traditional lifestyles were shattered as Native Americans became progressively subject to the laws of the white man and were forced to live on reservations.
In offering an opportunity to revive the memory of this foolish, meaningless operation, the exhibition of the Hermann Geiger Cultural Foundation has set itself the objectives of showing how and in what ways the ineffectual welfare-oriented policies of American administrations and the attempts at evangelization changed the lives of these seminomadic hunting populations as well as describing their problems, plights and current prospects. Almost incredibly, the values at the basis of Native American societies have not perished and continue to exist, impervious to the US capitalist system—values that the West should acknowledge and treasure.
The ethnographic objects come from the NONAM in Zurich, the prestigious international institution dedicated to North-American aboriginal cultures, and from important private collections, such as those of Sergio Susani and Alessandro Martire. The items, which are staged in scenographic settings, both enjoyable and of high educational value, are contextualized by captions, essays and images, so as to provide the public with greater insight into Native American lifestyles, history and traditions. Complementing the exhibition is a collection of historic photographs from the Archives of the Library of Congress.
Coinciding with the exhibition – curated by Alessandro Schiavetti and organized by the Geiger Foundation with the support of the Soconas Incomindios association – is a programme of lectures on several topics related to Native North American lifestyles and cultures. These will include conferences held by Naila Clerici, professor of History of American indigenous populations at the Università degli Studi di Genova; Sergio Susani, collector and expert in the arts and crafts of Plains Natives; and Alessandro Martire, president of the Wambli Gleska association, honorary member of the Rosebud Lakota Sioux Nation and their only international legal representative in Italy and at the High Commission for Human Rights in Geneva.
Natives. Trailing the peoples of the Great Plains
From 5 December 2015 to 14 February 2016
Exhibition Hall of the Hermann Geiger Cultural Foundation
Piazza Guerrazzi 32, Cecina (Livorno)
Opening hours: daily from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.