Krista Belle Stewart’s latest exhibition, Truth to Material, opens at the Nanaimo Art Gallery on Sept. 19. The show examines a German subculture call the “Indianer” who role play as imagined First Nations people. (Josef Jacobson/The News Bulletin)

Nanaimo Art Gallery exhibit explores German faux First Nations subculture

Artist Krista Belle Stewart shows photos, videos and items from east German ‘Indianer’

In her new exhibition, Syilx (Okanagan) Nation artist Krista Belle Stewart performs a kind of “reverse anthropology” as she studies and documents the “Indianer” – a subculture of east Germans who dress up and role play as First Nations people as depicted in books and movies by 19th century author Karl May.

Stewart first learned about the Indianer in 2006 from a classmate at Emily Carr University of Art and Design who grew up dressing as an Indianer in Prague, where May’s western novels and films were popular.

“I didn’t really believe it and I wasn’t sure why they were doing it, how they started doing it, how many there were, if it was even real,” Stewart said.

Determined to learn more and see for herself, Stewart travelled to Germany to visit the Karl May Museum near Dresden. After touring the museum, Stewart was introduced to a group of 20 Indianer calling themselves the Band of Broken Arrows.

“It was intense,” she said. “I mean they really do dress up as native people and they associate themselves to particular tribes. So they research and they make their own outfits and they say, ‘Hello, my name is so-and-so and I’m from the Sioux Nation.’”

Stewart returned to Germany the following year to attend a Karl May festival and powwow and continue documenting the Indianer. At the time, she was unsure what she wanted to do with the photographs she was accumulating.

This spring, Stewart, who is currently based in Berlin, decided to revisit that work and met with the Indianer for the first time in 12 years to attend her first Indianer gathering. She said the gathering is a 30-year tradition with more than 700 people participating in a weeklong teepee campout.

“I’m just baffled that it’s real and that it still exists and people, even two months ago, there were hundreds of them in the middle of nowhere in eastern Germany just dressing up and playing and singing and dancing and I was the only native person there,” she said. “I couldn’t be there for the full week. I couldn’t do that to myself.”

On Sept. 19 Stewart is unveiling the first iteration of her Indianer-inspired body of work at the the Nanaimo Art Gallery.

The exhibition, Truth to Material, includes 33 large photographs displayed on the floor of the gallery depicting her experience with the Band of Broken Arrows in 2006 and 2007.

“Because of what I’ve encountered and this roller-coaster of emotions I’ve been feeling, for me to have agency within it, I feel like I need to step on them in order to process and to in some ways think about it and maybe get over some of the feelings I had during the whole experience,” Stewart said.

There is also video from this spring’s Indianer gathering and two pieces of Indianer regalia: A hand-beaded buckskin dress and an engraved silver armband stained with brown body paint.

“This is just starting and in some ways I’m wanting to continue recording, researching and archiving what I’m experiencing with them and cataloging and collecting more things,” Stewart said.

Stewart said May’s work was particularly popular in East Germany because information about the outside world was limited and stories about triumphant, free First Nations people resonated with those living behind the Iron Curtain. Most Indianer are now in middle-age and one told Stewart that it’s a “dying culture.”

“The more I work with it, I just really want to understand more about why they do this,” Stewart said. “And I’m trying to go at it from a position of leaving my heart at at the door.”

WHAT’S ON … Truth to Material by Krista Belle Stewart opens at the Nanaimo Art Gallery, 150 Commercial St., on Thursday, Sept. 19 at 7 p.m. Show runs until Nov. 10. Seraphine, Seraphine screening and artist talk featuring Krista Belle Stewart takes place at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre Dodd Narrows Room on Saturday, Sept. 21 at 2 p.m.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Comments are closed

Just Posted

No injuries after SUV hits tree in north Nanaimo

Nanaimo RCMP and Fire Rescue respond to MVI on Hammond Bay Road, near Brigantine Drive

Beefs & Bouquets, July 8

To submit a beef or a bouquet to the Nanaimo News Bulletin, e-mail

Nanaimo non-profits ask for volunteer receptionists

Nanaimo Disability Resource Centre and Volunteer Nanaimo have opportunities available

City of Nanaimo takes inventory of its land for official community plan review

Report recommends high-density residential development, identifies shortage of industrial land

Feds announce $8.3M to deal with ‘ghost’ fishing gear in B.C. waters

Ghost gear accounts for up to 70 per cent of all macro-plastics in the ocean by weight

The pandemic is widening Canada’s workplace gender gap

Gender pay gap is incentivizing fathers to work while mothers watch children, a new B.C. study has found

Man found dead on Okanagan trail identified as Hollywood actor

GoFundMe campaign launched for man found dead at summit of Spion Kop

3 people dead in Prince George motel fire

Fire personnel believe the blaze was suspicious although investigation in early stages

B.C. sets terms to review police, mental health, race relations

MLAs to recommend Police Act changes by May 2021

Almost 99% less land in B.C. burned this year compared to 2018

2018 was the worst year on record for wildfires

B.C. orders Coastal GasLink to stop pipeline construction near protected wetlands

The 670-kilometre pipeline is planned to transport natural gas from northeast B.C. to Kitimat

B.C. tent camps persist as hotels, housing bought for homeless

Current estimate 40 camps, homeless counts stalled by COVID-19

Saanich junior hockey team drops Braves name, First Nations logo

Club moves on after 53-years with First Nations logo

Most Read