Public Space Winner
Story Totem Pole
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Kossmann.dejong has designed the exhibition ‘The Story of the Totem Pole’ for the Museum Volkenkunde [National Museum of Ethnology] in Leiden. This family-oriented exhibition focuses on the indigenous inhabitants of the Northwest coast of the United States and Canada. These First Nations have a rich tradition in woodcutting and are famous for their stunning totem poles. An eight-metre-tall tall totem pole was made especially for the exhibition by a group of artists led by Kwakwaka’wakw artist Rande Cook. By means of theatrical installations, stories, interviews and reportage visitors are given an impressive overview of the rich cultures of the First Nations.
The exhibition is spread over a series of thematic rooms that highlight various aspects of the lives of the First Nations. The start of the exhibition offers a glimpse of the world in which they settled permanently. Because so much food is available so easily, they had a lot of spare time for making art. The story of this life of plenty is told by way of film fragment and an installation of salmons. However, this life of plenty also appears to have a flipside. Four documentaries about the First Nations’ daily life engage critically with contemporary issues. Ceremonies are the central topic in the last three exhibition spaces. Via a room in which a special transformation mask is on display, the visitor enters a dark room full of mythical masks used in various rituals. In the end attention is being paid to Potlatch: a big feast with rituals during which the host raises his status by giving away many presents. Sound is a key element in this space, immersing visitors in the hubbub of a real Potlatch. By way of a panoramic film projection and a display of Potlatch gifts visitors become part of the feast.
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