A new photography exhibition opens April 11 at the Fred Jones Jr Museum of Art. Heather Ahtone, the James T. Bialic Assistant Curator for Native American and Non-western Arts, says the exhibition has a global feel.
“'Our People, Our Land, Our Images' is an exhibition of indigenous photography from across the world,” said Ahtone. “It includes Native American photographers as well as Maori from New Zealand, Iranian and Palestinian photographers. It's their visual take on what it is to be indigenous and from a particular place."
This exhibit encompasses photographers from the early 1900s to present day.
“As you can imagine Native Americans are very quick to incorporate new media into their traditions,” Ahtone said.
“Jennie Ross Cobb, in the early period of the 1900s, was already taking photographs of the Cherokee experience at the Female Seminary in Tahlequah, which is now Northeastern State University. Her pictures are to a certain extent genre like, they are just images of her and her friends, the women and they experiences they were have,” Ahtone said.
Cobb’s photographs are on loan from the Oklahoma Historical Society. What they show us, said Ahtone, is the early beginnings of native photography as a medium to document that indigenous experience.
“I think that's important aspect of this exhibition. Native America has largely and broadly been photographed as an other, as a subject for photography,” Ahtone said.
“Of course everyone's familiar with Edward Curtis and there are other numerous photographers whose careers were built on documenting Native Americans. It’s not to say that Native Americans haven't been photographing themselves,” Ahtone said.
“We know about Jennie Ross Cobb in relationship to this exhibition and Horace Poolaw's work has recently been organized through the Smithsonian for exhibition, another Oklahoman I might just add. Native American photographers have been documenting their own experiences,” Ahtone said.
“These artists in Our People, Our Land, Our Images, are really thinking about these things critically through their images. Not only the documentation of people that's represented but also the documentation of the effect of stereotypes, stereotypes inherited from those outside-looking-in photographers,” Ahtone said.
Ahtone said these artists are also thinking about the ideas that are held as values within Native American and indigenous cultures.
“Some of the images almost feel ceremonial in the way that they are. For instance, the Maori who are closely connected to the water, some of the images are actually underwater images, things moving through the water, moving through space,” Ahtone said.
“Several of the photographers use double exposure in order to create that sort of metaphorical relationship between things that could not possibly be photographed in conjunction with a single exposure,” Ahtone said.
“These artists are very thoughtful, very inspiring and I think they give us a perspective on the indigenous experience that can be expressed to people without it necessarily feeling like an antagonistic attack on images that have been done,” Ahtone said. “I think that's going to be something that whether you come from an indigenous community or not, those are things that are values that everyone shares, and I think that's what this photography is going to provide to our audience.”
The photography exhibition Our People, Our Land, Our Images opens April 11 and will be on display through May 25 at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art in Norman.
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