The Norman Transcript

N-town stories

March 14, 2014

Museum photo exhibit explores native identity, politics

NORMAN — A new photography exhibit at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art is working to break down cultural stereotypes and start a dialogue on what it means to be “native.”

“Our People, Our Land, Our Images” is a touring exhibit featuring 51 historical and contemporary photographs by 26 indigenous photographers from North America, South America, the Middle East and New Zealand.

FJJMA James T. Bialac Assistant Curator of Native American and Non-Western Art Heather Ahtone said the exhibition explores issues indigenous peoples across the world face, including similarities and differences each group or artist has dealing with identity, traditions, politics and histories. Perhaps most importantly, she said, the exhibit explores native issues through the eyes of native people and is curated by natives.

“As a museum, using images that explore those issues, helps to at least further the dialogue,” she said. “We may not resolve it, but if we can help further the dialogue, we may one day get to a place where those things ... embrace the diversity rather than trying to homogenize it all.”

The exhibition is organized by Native American and guest curator Veronica Passalacqua of the C.N. Gorman Museum at the University of California, Davis, and is a program of ExhibitsUSA, a national division of Mid-America Arts Alliance, with the Oklahoma Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Included photographs feature a range of subjects and represent a variety of time periods and cultures. While some images are more journalistic in nature, others include double-exposed images, posed photographs with models or photoshopped pictures to include a variety of images or words. Ahtone said the result is that some images give subtle insight into native life, while others offer direct commentary on a variety of social or political issues.

Ahtone said the images tell a story by the way they are laid out in relation to each other, highlighting similarities and differences between each native culture. The series of images as a collection helps identify stories or struggles each community deals with.

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