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Photography exhibition celebrates Native culture, resilience

Four young Native Americans in traditional dress stand in front of a pile of televisions on a grassy plain.
TV Indians by Cara Romero, 2017 (Image courtesy of the artist - © Cara Romero)

A new exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) depicts Native cultures as seen through their own photographers’ eyes.

In Our Hands” is made up of more than 150 photographs and mixed media artworks by First Nations, Métis, Inuit, and Native American artists dating as far back as 1890. The exhibition was curated by a council of Native artists, scholars, and knowledge sharers in partnership with Mia curators.

Oglala Lakota artist and Consulting Curator Jaida Grey Eagle says “In Our Hands” highlights both Indigenous resilience and the timeless power of Native culture. She says the exhibition documents the continued Indigenous resistance to erasure by American colonialism.

“It’s about how all of these things that the United States government has tried to do to Native people have not worked. How we've more than survived – we've thrived. And everything within the exhibition lives beyond that... Indigenous people and our values expand beyond place and time.”

Grey Eagle says she wants the exhibition to illuminate native perspectives to a broader audience.

Black and white photograph of a man wearing a headdress while riding a bus, surrounded by other men wearing contemporary American clothing.
Indian on Mission Bus by Zig Jackson (Rising Buffalo) 1994 (Image courtesy of the artist - © Zig Jackson)

As a Black woman in the gallery space, there were many images I could relate to. The photo “Indian on Mission Bus” by Zig Jackson captures a man riding the bus in a traditional headdress surrounded by other riders in modern clothing. The image reminded me of what I’ve witnessed in my own community when we wear our hair in cornrows, locs, or even Afros; basic cultural expressions are often met with stigmas created outside our community that impact the way we are responded to in society. Jackson’s photograph, along with many of the other images, made me examine how we have been conditioned to think about others, and how those beliefs affect our ability to truly connect with one another.

Chair of Global Contemporary Art and Curator of Photography and New Media Casey Riley says she believes the show has the ability to connect a diverse range of audiences emotionally and intellectually. It also explores the impact of Native photographers on the field at large.

“The impact of Native peoples’ practices within photography needs to be underscored at a museum like this,” said Riley.

A woman in a short black dress and fishnet stockings stands in a winter wilderness. She holds a canister which is emitting a cloud of pinkish red smoke that encircles her. She is facing away from the camera.
Our Women and Girls Are Sacred #1 by Katherine Takpannie, 2016 (Image courtesy of Olga Korper Gallery - © Katherine Takpannie)

The exhibition provides baskets for offerings and spaces for Native visitors to reflect.

Associate Curator of Native American Art Jill Ahlberg Yohe says working with a Native council was a transformative experience.

“They helped us create something here that was really a model of not just what happens when native people are behind the camera, but also what happens when native people are behind curatorial practices,” said Ahlberg Yohe. “Something radically shifts when multiple perspectives are brought on equal footing.”

“In Our Hands” is on display through January 14, 2024 at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. A virtual audio guide is available online.


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