My North American Indian Volume 21
Looking at First Nations peoples’ past through a frame of photographs, paintings, and films produced by white society has always left me feeling uneasy due to the silences coming from these images. I wondered what the indigenous sitters were thinking about. How did they see their world in comparison to how their world was being represented? This question would eventually form a foundation for my work in the visual arts, influencing my photographic practice, my research, and my role as an independent curator. I was determined to challenge the silences in the archive; to build a new paradigm that connects past and present.
I began by looking to my childhood and my experiences siting around the kitchen table on the farm at the Six Nations Reserve and listening to my elders tell stories about life on the reserve. Topics ranged from politics to everyday gossip to the price of pigs. Given my fascination with conversations and storytelling, it is not surprising that I was uncomfortable with the silences I perceived in most photographs of First Nations peoples.
But the images of Edward S. Curtis, and his accompanying texts, seem to hint at possible conversations. Although Curtis’s work is often vilified, I wanted to find a way to engage with historical images without either romanticizing or dismissing them. His images make me long to hear the subjects’ voices. I search for these “outtakes” and use my own work to suggest what they may have looked like. When, in his text, Curtis says that he doesn’t know what is on the “other side” of assimilation, he left the door open to someone like me to pick up where he left off.
View the other Portfolios from this series: