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The exhibit is called Speaking with Light and it features more than 30 contemporary Indigenous artists.
John Rohrbach is senior curator of photographs at the museum. He co-curated this show.
“The exhibition comes rooted in the museum’s recognition that it has more than 6,000 photographs of Indigenous peoples across the United States, most of these being made in the 19th through the mid 20th century,” he said. Less than 5 percent of the images were made by Native Americans.
That lack of control over who’s behind the camera has real-world consequences.
Take Jessica Johnson. She’s Native American, and co-host of a show called Bows and Arrows at radio station KNON. She said these historic images are sometimes hard to look at. She attended a preview of the new show.
“A lot of times when I go to museums, I’m a little concerned about what I’m going to see and how I’m going to feel,” she said. “Because a lot of times it’s Native culture in the past tense, and so I might get upset.”
“Speaking With Light” aims to start changing experiences like Johnson’s. It seeks to challenge past depictions, and the ways they contribute to demeaning stereotypes. The multimedia exhibition has over 70 works by artists who are reclaiming Indigenous representation.
Ryan RedCorn, a photographer and writer for the hit Hulu show “Reservation Dogs,” has worked on the exhibit. He previously told The Dallas Morning News that he’s grown tired of Indigenous people “being told you’re helpless or useless and there’s nothing you can do about it, and everything that’s happening to Indigenous people is inevitable.
“That kind of storyline is really harmful, not even truthful, not even factual, and doesn’t really account for the way that I experience my own community, or that the world experiences my community or my experience within my own community.”
Will Wilson, a photographer and educator, co-curated the exhibit. He’s Diné – a citizen of the Navajo Nation.
One section of the exhibition draws attention to the past, displaying some of the Amon Carter’s large collection of delegate photos. These were taken in the early 1900s to document and celebrate treaty negotiations, which often were unfavorable to Native Americans. The photos were usually made by white people, said Wilson.
“We wanted to point to that history and say ‘Hey, this sovereignty has been intact since before the beginning of the United States, and it’s happening now too.'”
Survival and resistance are important through-lines in Native American history.
There’s even a word for it, coined by Indigenous scholar Gerald Vizenor: “Survivance.” That’s central to the other part of the exhibit, said Wilson.
Survivance speaks to an Indigenous audience, but also to the settler colonist, who is “reminded very forcefully that, hey, we’re still here, you’ve stolen our land, you’ve tried to kill us. But we’re resisting , we’re surviving,” said Wilson.
The exhibit also explores what it means to see – and photograph – through an Indigenous lens.
One example is “Water Memory,” a 2015 print by Chemehuevi artist Cara Romero. In it, two Pueblo corn dancers float in the ocean. It represents the flooding of thousands of Native American homes in Southern California after the construction of the Parker Dam.
For the Amon Carter, “Speaking with Light” marks an ongoing effort to work with Indigenous artists, said Rohrbach, the curator. The museum has acquired more than 80 percent of the work on display.
But what about Jessica Johnson, who hasn’t always appreciated the way Native Americans are portrayed at museums?
“So the common perspective when you think of Native Americans, and this happens to me is, ‘Oh my gosh, do you have a spirit animal? What is your Native name? Do you identify with the earth and all the colors of the wind? ?’ And that’s frustrating,” she said. “I feel like this exhibit, it kind of breaks some of those perceptions.”
“Coming here today to this exhibition, I’m elated, because they’re Native photography by Native artists, and it’s not just Indigenous culture that is reflective of the past, it is of the present and the future, and so that’s really inspiring .”
Johnson said she hopes people go. It might broaden their perspective on the complexities of modern Indigenous life.
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— Kali Spitzer’s Audrey Siegl, 2019, P2021.58.jpg
“Audrey Siegl”, a 2019 print by Kali Spitzer. The piece features Musqueam activist Audrey Siegl, who has worked on raising awareness about missing and murdered Indigenous women.
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— Alan Michelson_Mespat_2001_Collection of the National Museum of the American Indian. jpg
A photograph of the video and sound installation on turkey feathers called “Mespat,” 2001. The piece by Alan Michelson explores how native Lenape people were displaced from Newtown Creek by European colonists in 1642.
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— Rosalie Favell, The Collector, L2021.100.jpeg
“The Collector/The Artist in Her Museum”, a 2005 print by Rosalie Favell. In this piece Favell inserts himself into the 1822 painting “The Artist in His Museum” by Charles Willson Peale. She writes on her website that “the original painting links natural history and museum practices that include collecting aboriginal peoples and artifacts”. She continues: “I am inviting the viewer into my world where Indigenous peoples claim the right to exhibit their own culture and history.”
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— Tom Jones, Peyton Grace Rapp, L2021.88.2.jpg
“Peyton Grace Rapp”, a 2017 print with glass beads by Tom Jones. This is one of the many pieces that Amon Carter has acquired from the exhibition.
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— Kiliii Yüyan, Joy Mask, IK, 2018, P2021.41.jpeg
“Joy Mask, IK”, a 2018 print by Kiliii Yüyan. The piece is about an art therapy project in a Native Alaskan village where teens make grief and joy masks to help them process and discuss suicide.
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— Wendy Red Star, Catalog Number 1941.30.1, 2019, 2019, P2020.166.5.jpg
“Catalogue Number 1941.30.1”, a 2019 print by Wendy Red Star. According to the Rockwell Museum website, “Red Star used object card catalogs painted by Works Progress Administration artists that detailed the museum’s holdings of Native objects.”
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—Sky Hopinka, Teja. The Sea, 2020, P2021.30.jpeg
“Teją́. The Sea. It’s neither our name for the great lakes or lesser lakes. It’s the sea, and we said we were from the north and from the salt. It’s too much right now. Too much like learning that my father performed the Breathings his entire life. I have recordings of him, and I heard them when I was little, and I said them myself,” a 2020 print with etched words by Sky Hopinka.
DETAILS: The exhibit is up through January at the Amon Carter museum in Fort Worth.
Arts Access is a partnership between The Dallas Morning News and KERA that expands local arts, music and culture coverage through the lens of access and equity.
This community-funded journalism initiative is funded by the Better Together Fund, Carol & Don Glendenning, City of Dallas OAC, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Eugene McDermott Foundation, James & Gayle Halperin Foundation, Jennifer & Peter Altabef and The Meadows Foundation. The News and KERA retain full editorial control of Arts Access’ journalism.