People and their personal stories are at the heart of “America”, an exhibition that is dedicated, first and foremost, to the American continents in the 21st century. Yet, in the fields of politics, business and culture or religion, the present-day differences between North and South America can hardly be understood without first explaining the background of the immigration waves that characterised America, particularly since 1492. For this reason “immigration” is the first of four major themes encountered by visitors – followed by “religion”, “politics & society” and “global trade”. They are accompanied by eight impressive video portraits, whose protagonists tell you about their wishes for the future at the end of the tour.
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The American continents have been formed by continuous change. In the course of the earth’s history, the flora and fauna has been characterised both by geological and climatic changes. Similarly large impacts were noted upon Columbus’ arrival in 1492. In the following centuries, millions of people came to America – some in search of prosperity, happiness and freedom. Others were kidnapped and arrived as slaves. On the one hand, immigrants encountered seemingly unused land that they claimed for themselves. On the other, they also found densely-populated areas whose inhabitants – in their opinion – had to be converted. The consequences for the local population were considerable.
Immigrants dressed in fur: the predecessors of the American bison came to North America approximately 600,000 to 300,000 years ago. This is where the bisons, as they are known today, evolved. It is estimated that about 30 million of these animals were populating the prairies and forests of North America when the Europeans arrived. Following intensive hunting, there numbers were decimated to the brink of extinction. Currently, about half a million bisons live here again, especially in the protected areas and in national parks.
Displaced and hunted: the Carolina parakeet was the only parrot species in North America. Its natural habitat was plane forests and cypress groves along rivers and swamps. Yet this changed with the immigration of the Europeans. From then on, the Carolina parakeet found its food in fruit orchards, among others. As a result of this, it was actively hunted as a pest. In 1918, the last of these animals died in a zoo.
Back to America: the horse originally comes from North America, yet became extinct here about 8,000 years ago. It only returned to America again with the Spaniards, in the 16th century. The numbers grew as a result of horses that had run away, owing to theft or horse trade. By the time the North European settlers brought horses to the country, they had already spread from New Mexico to the north. By about 1775, all Plains Indians were on horseback. The hunting of bisons was intensified and the hunting grounds were extended.
War bonnet of the chief Red Eagle
Lakota, USA, 2nd half of the 19th century
Important headdress: the large eagle feather bonnet of the Plains tribes is considered the symbol of the Indians. Considered a source of inner power and intuition, it symbolised leaders and men worthy of this honour and was only worn for special occasions. The wing and tail feathers of the eagle represented outstanding feats during battle. This war bonnet is decorated with Bohemian glass beads and Chinese silk ribbons.
Guests and gifts: Potlatch is the description used for festivals celebrated by the Indians along the northwestern coast of America. Here, it used to be a custom to distribute gifts to the guests and to pass on chieftains’ names, titles and administrative offices to the next generation. A chieftain’s reputation and importance was determined by the number of guests and the value of the gifts given to them. After having been forbidden in 1884, there are attempts again today to revive the original spirit of Potlatch in a contemporary form.
Treasure of gold
The fabric of celestial power: during the 16th century, the legend of El Dorado whetted the Spaniards’ thirst for adventure. In search of gold, they swept across the continent, pillaging and murdering wherever they went. For the ancient Indian peoples of Latin America, gold was often considered the fabric of celestial power. It decorated priests and the objects used during their ceremonies. Whatever gold was found by the Spaniards was melted down. The value of what remained hidden from them was only recognised later on and preserved.
The search for religious freedom used to be an important motif for the decision to immigrate to North America. Today, Latin America is characterised by deep-rooted Catholicism. Despite, in part, violent missionary work by the Christian Europeans, Indian religions have been preserved to this very day. Afro-American religions bear reference to the legacy of slavery in the Caribbean area.
Doll of the Amish
USA, 2015, Karolin Kruse collection
Made for tourists: this doll was sewn by Freida Raber for the museum shop of the Menno-Hof museum of local history in Shipshewana, Indiana. By tradition, Amish dolls are faceless. The face is not important, because all people are equal before God. Only God himself may depict people. The manufacturing of dolls for tourists is a way in which the Amish culture is marketed.
Alb, chasuble and tippet
Tripartite: when celebrating Holy Mass, catholic priests wear special attire. Here a white undergarment, the so-called alb, provides the foundation. Added to this is the tippet, a long - frequently decorated - strip of cloth. The robe is completed by the chasuble, the garment worn on top. The colour of the chasuble varies, depending on the time, feast or event of the ecclesiastical year that is celebrated. Red is worn especially during feasts that celebrate the Passion of Christ, the Holy Ghost or during holidays where martyrs are commemorated.
Reproduction of the “La Guadalupana” altarpiece
Chihuahua City, Mexico, 1986, Claus Deimel collection, 1985
Frequently copied: according to legend, the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was created from the cloak of the Indian Juan Diego, to whom the Virgin appeared on the Hill of Tepeyac in 1531. This event led to the Indians accepting the Christian saints. For them, the Mother of God was comparable with Tonantzin, the mother goddess of the Aztecs. Today, copies of the image can be found in almost every Mexican household.
Leonardo Linares, Mexico City, Mexico, 1980s, Herbert Ganslmayr collection, 1985
Highly symbolic: Catrina is the most famous creation by the caricaturist José Guadalupe Posada. In his satirical pictures, the newspaper illustrator criticised the suppression of people and the popular culture during the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz, during the transition to the 20th century. The skeleton lady with hat symbolised those Mexicans who wanted to renounce their Indian roots by wearing European dress.
Painted bison hide
Blackfoot, Canada, 2001, Museum Kunstpalast collection Düsseldorf, 2012
Animal hide with a message: this bison hide, painted by Devalon Small Legs, a Blackfoot elder, shows two male and two female bisons. They are arranged around a red sun disk in a circular form. This depicts fertility and life. The bison hide also draws attention to the fact that, with the revival of the Sun Dance in more recent times, the bisons would also return to the land of the Blackfoot again.
Power and protection: Paquets are spiritual objects made by voodoo priests. A Paquet consists of magical ingredients such as herbs, other plant materials and soil – wrapped up in fabric and decorated with feathers, ribbons and sequins. Paquets are used during healing ceremonies. They are objects of power that are used to activate the Loa, the spiritual beings. Kept at home as a protective amulet, they bring health, wealth and happiness to a home.
Politics and Society
Millions of Immigrants brought their culture to America: convictions and ideals, ruling systems and religions that were mixed together among one another and with the cultures of the indigenous population. They characterised political and social structures of present-day American society and were mirrored in people’s self-perception, their daily life and their feasts.
Volker Kreidler, 2015
Enquired: the phrases “American Way of Life” and “American Dream” refer to the way of life and self-conception in the USA. What they actually mean in detail is hard to say. They also cannot be transferred to Latin America. Therefore, for the exhibition, people from North and Latin America were asked what is special about life in their home country. The photographer Volker Kreidler portrayed the persons spoken to.
Bolivia, 2015, collection Markus A. Scholz
The battle between good and evil: carnival is the highlight of the year in many parts of Latin America. In the Bolivian city of Oruro about 50 associations participate in the carnival processions and present dances with own choreography, music and costumes. The most important dance is the Diablada. It portrays the battle between good and evil. Here, the archangel Michael, Lucifer, Satan and a large number of devils that represent the cardinal sins of people come into conflict with one another.
Traditional Mayan women’s costume
Nebaj, Quiché, Guatemala, 1970s, Corinna Raddatz collection, 1975
More than clothing: a traditional costume does not only divulge the affiliation to a certain community in Guatemala: for many Maya women it is a part of their identity and proud expression of their indigenous roots. Men, on the other hand, are only rarely seen in traditional costumes. Racism toward indigenous peoples is still widespread and, in their struggle to find recognition, many of them have given up their traditional clothing.
Rear of a school bus
Well-known companion: multiple-lane urban motorways, endless highways and strict speed limits are a part of the US-American lifestyle. The different locations are very far apart. Thus yellow buses are a commonly-used means of transportation for pupils of public schools and can be used free of charge. In 2013, more than 460,000 vehicles transported more than 28 million children.
From the old days: in the pioneering days, every settler had to protect himself and his country by himself. Today, when compared with the number of inhabitants, the USA has the highest concentration of weapons worldwide. About 30,000 people are killed by private firearms every year. Many US citizens believe that more stringent control laws would restrict their rights. In this regard they refer to the Second Constitutional Amendment of 1791, which allows citizens to bear arms.
Lakota, Pine Ridge Reservation, USA, 2013, Sonja John collection, 2015
Jingling movements: Powwow dance festivals play a very important role within the framework of the revival of the Indians’ self-confidence. There are different kinds of dances in a number of different traditional costumes. The Jingle Dress is one of the most popular costumes for girls and women. It is characterised by a trimming with many rows of conical metal sleeves that create the jingling sound when dancing.
San Malverde Statue
USA, 21st century
Human example: San Malverde is a popular Mexican saint and the patron saint of drug dealers and illegal immigrants. Jesus Malverde really existed. Born in 1870, he was hanged as a criminal in 1909. Today, he has the reputation of having been a kind of Robin Hood, who took from the rich and gave to the poor. He is very popular with the population in the federal state of Sinaloa. His festive day is celebrated on the 3rd of May. He is not recognised by the Catholic Church.
As the largest national economy worldwide, the USA is the leader in global trade. To date, only a few countries in Latin America produce raw materials, goods and services or trade with these. The stock exchange and the price of shares are at the heart of events – also in the exhibition. Examples of daily commodities such as meat, coffee, maize, soya, silver or fossil oil demonstrate that prices are not only determined by the producer but also by wholesalers and the stock markets in New York or Frankfurt. The flipside of production also becomes apparent in the exhibition: enormous surface and resource consumption.
“Little coffee boy”
Oil on canvas, Nanuk, Rolândia 1995
From Bremen to Latin America: at the age of 13 years, Nanuk, the German Mathilde Hoster, fled from the National Socialists together with her family. Their destination: Rolândia (Brazil). This settlement had been founded shortly before by migrants from Bremen. The refugees arduously cultivated the rain forest and started growing coffee. Nanuk became a well-known painter who documented the new living environment in her paintings.
Model of a coffee Beneficio
Übersee Museum, approx. 1960
Manufacturing process: coffee farmers in Columbia take their harvest to a so-called Beneficio. Here the beans are dried until they can be removed from their cherry easily. The beans are then cleaned. Once the skin that covers the beans has also been removed, they are sorted according to quality and packed into 60 kg bags. Green coffee is transported overseas to roasting houses in this form.
Obstacle in sight: thousands of reindeers pass through the American tundra in search of food. Among mammals, they constitute the largest herd and use the longest migratory routes. However, oil pipelines are cutting through their living environment. A pipeline that would cut off the migratory route to the reindeers’ nursery area has been in planning in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska since 1977. This could have a major impact on the population numbers.
Bust of Simón Bolívar
Quito, Ecuador, 2015,Übersee Museum Bremen collection, 2015
Always esteemed: he was the trailblazer of the pan-American idea, the vision of a united America: Simón Bolívar. In the early 19th century, he struggled to attain independence from Spanish colonial rule for many Latin American states and founded the central state of Gran Columbia. His dream shattered. However, in Columbia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Peru and Bolivia, Simón Bolívar is revered as “El Libertador” – the liberator to this very day.
Mate drinking vessel and Bombilla
Argentina, before 1973, Ludwig Tampe collection, 2012
Used several times: the people in the south of Latin America use special drinking vessels to prepare mate tea. These are filled with tea leaves up to one third of the vessel’s volume, and the leaves are then covered with hot water. The Bombilla, a metal tube with a sieve at the bottom end, is used for drinking the infusion. Because of the large number of tea leaves used, mate tea can be topped up very frequently.
Endangered species: owing to their blaze of colours, the offspring of sun parakeets are very popular domestic pets. Yet, this tends to hide the fact that they are meanwhile considered an endangered species in the wild. The sun parakeet originally comes from a relatively small area in the north of Latin America. It is assumed that there are only a few thousand left – and the numbers are dwindling rapidly.