to main navigation

to content

to area navigation

The Great Potlatch

Skulptur des Potlach

The Great Potlatch. Gift Giving Customs And Economies Of Plenty
Alert Bay: U'mista Cultural Centre, (Cormorant Island), British Columbia, Kanada April 22, 2011 to August 28, 2011
Dresden: Kunsthalle im Lipsiusbau, May 7, 2011 to August 21, 2011

All powerful and wealthy societies have demonstrations of power and status, often using extravagant methods. These demonstrations can be shown through ceremony, courtly ritual, and through the creation and dissemination of valuable material goods. A society’s identity is created and disseminated through these material objects.

The themes of gifts, identity, status and extravagance will be explored through a unique collaboration. The U’mista Cultural Centre in Alert Bay, British Columbia, Canada and the Dresden State Art Collections will exchange examples of extravagance, ritual splendour and gifts from their collections. These artifacts will be presented in two simultaneous exhibitions in Alert Bay and in Dresden. The aim of this collaborative project is to present relationships, similarities, differences, and the importance and necessity of the gift-giving as an economic and social characteristic.

Alert Bay, British Columbia, U’mista Cultural Centre

The Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden (Dresden State Art Collections) number among the most prominent museums in the world. The combined holdings of the twelve museums offer a remarkable thematic diversity. A selection of artifacts from the museums Rüstkammer (Armoury), Porzellansammlung (porcelain collection) and Grünes Gewölbe (Green Vault) will be exhibited at the U’mista Cultural Centre elaborating on the theme of gifts and extravagance. Dresden electors displayed their wealth and abundance through many lavish masquerades and festivals.

Art values were at extravagant levels, so the increase and distribution of works of art and objects of value within the state coffers gave the electors global power and respect. The electors benefited from the distribution of treasures to the members of their courts and other electors and rulers during royal festivals and performances, likewise, the members of the courts also benefited from the exchange of treasures with the electors. With the help of the gift culture at the Dresden court, the electors’ treasuries grew and laid the foundation for the art collections of Dresden. These collections demonstrate the continuous abundance, richness, and dispersal of art works and objects of value throughout the history of the Dresden electors. The collaborative project is funded in part by the German Federal Cultural Foundation and provides funding for collaboration between researchers from the Kwakwaka’wakw First Nations and researchers from the Dresden State Art Collections.


Dresden, Kunsthalle im Lipsiusbau

The U’mista Cultural Centre is located in Alert Bay on Cormorant Island situated near the North coast of Vancouver Island. The Centre is one of the most well known, longest running, and successful First Nations cultural facilities in British Columbia, Canada. Founded in 1980 as a ground-breaking project to house seized Potlatch artifacts, its main goals are to maintain and promote the cultural heritage of the Kwakwaka’wakw First Nations. The U’mista Cultural Centre also houses an archive, library, and research centre. A portion of the Potlatch Collection will be on display in Dresden from April to September 2011. This is the first time the collection will be collectively on exhibition outside Canada. Around 50 pieces of regalia will be on display in the Exhibition Hall at the Lipsiusbau. Corrine Hunt, an artist and designer of Kwakwaka’wakw and Tlingit heritage, will design the exhibition space in Dresden. Among her achievements is her work designing the medals for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver.

Spanning centuries of ceremonial practice, the regalia in this collection were seized from a ceremonial Potlatch that was held during a time of prohibition and cultural repression. The Potlatch is a public view into the legal transactions of the Kwakwaka’wakw and Northwest Coast First Nations. Reasons to hold a Potlatch include naming, marriages, birth, and ceremonial transfers. The people who witnessed these transactions were paid through gifts of food and material wealth. By accepting payment and witnessing these events, the guests assent to the family’s claims.

Dr. Claus Deimel (Dresden), Karen Estrin (Alert Bay)
Sandy Bachmann
Chief William Cranmer (Kurator)
Dr. Jutta Charlotte von Bloh (Kuratorin)
Dr. Karin Kolb (Co-Kuratorin)
Eva-Maria Wettke (Projektkoordinatorin) 

Patronage: Landtagspräsident Dr. Matthias Rößler