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September 29 - December 2, 2011

 

 


William Henry Jackson
Pawnee Indian, 1868

Modern reprint from Albumen print
Great Plains Art Museum, 0321.1981
Gift of Dr. John and Elizabeth Christlieb


Hulleah J. Tsinhnahjinnie
Mega Sale, 2010
Digital photograph printed on poly-satin fabric

A CURATORIAL AND ARTISTIC COLLABORATION

This exhibition is presented through the collaboration between the C.N. Gorman Museum and the Great Plains Art Museum at University of Nebraska, Lincoln. As part of the UNL's Geske Lecture series, the exhibition was intended to address arts, history and the regional influence of the Great Plains. The lectureship provided the opportunity to examine their permanent collections and expand the dialogue beyond the archive by working with renown photographic artist, Hulleah J. Tsinhnahjinnie (Tuskegee/Diné) to create a series of new works derived, and exhibited alongside, the photographic archives of the Great Plains Art Museum.

When we began to work together on the series, we poured over hundreds of collections image files and multiple database lists. Within a search of Native American historical photographs, portraits, landscapes, communities, and material objects resurfaced. The photographs are rich in visual content, documenting moments of westward expansionism, governmental surveys, and Native American material culture that breaks through the frame for the viewer to consider who took the photograph, why it was taken, how it was used and the persistent existence of the photograph to survive in collections. But above all, it is the power of the image which in an instant is able to transport the viewer back in history to these multifaceted contexts to wonder about all the stakeholders involved in the photograph – the sitter, the photographer, the patron, the consumer, the collector, the archivist, the researcher and the viewer.

Through the portal of digital technologies Tsinhnahjinnie transports the sitters of these vintage photographs through time, space and technologies. In their original form, the images are printed as carte-de-visites, cabinet cards, stereopticons, and real photo cards. Their transformation in size from a few inches to up to five feet with the infusion of vibrant colors from a muted sepia-toned palette renders the figures to be undeniably present. She further liberates the images from the fixity of photographic paper and confinement of a frame by producing them on shimmering poly-satin fabric. Mounted inches off the wall, the pieces and subjects seem to be in movement, gently wafting with the breeze of passing by. Paying homage to the Bison and in respect for the peoples of the Plains, she gives voice, agency and presence to the figures to serve as a protagonist.

Tsinhnahjinnie's works in this series provide an Indigenous perspective from a personal and political encounter with the archives. The works validate the critical importance of archival materials as evidencing alternate histories when considered in a contemporary context. From selection, to commentary and her own perspective of double vision, Tsinhnahjinnie demonstrates the partnerships between artists, curators and museums in working with archival materials and a way of bringing light to photographs perhaps long forgotten and buried deep within institutional collections.

 

ARTIST STATEMENT
Hulleah J. Tsinhnahjinnie

I have had the great fortune of visiting photographic archives nationally and inter-nationally, and do not hesitate when invited to view or respond to them. So it was with great anticipation that I viewed the Great Plains Art Museum archives and I was not disappointed.  Archival photographs that I find intriguing are the early images of Indigenous Nations, individuals, land, and animals.  I scan the images for messages, intentional and unintentional messages.  Through the photograph I am transported to consider the shifting political atmosphere, speculate about the space between the subject and the film, wonder about the intention of the image maker, and reflect upon the intention of the “subject”. 

This series intentionally focuses upon the Buffalo Nation/Bison Nation, of the historical.  As I surveyed the images I had selected to work with, the presence of the Buffalo Nation/Bison Nation felt very strong and as I worked on the images, I wanted to pay homage to a Nation that was nearly slaughtered to extinction.  I wanted to pay homage to a four legged Nation that survived in spite of “progress”.  While thinking about the Buffalo/ Bison Nation, I couldn’t help but consider the dualities that just their name presents; how, the early settlers could not understand the indigenous names of “things” already present so they had to rename ‘things’ to make them familiar, from animals, birds, cities, streets,  even giving the Indigenous Nations the name of “Indian”.

I fill in the negative and positive spaces with thoughts from a book I recently assigned my students, “Decolonizing Methodologies” by Linda Tuhuiwai Smith:

"A critical aspect of the struggle for self-determination has involved questions relating to our history as indigenous peoples and a critique of how we as the Other, have been represented or excluded from various accounts. Every issue has been approached by indigenous peoples with a view to rewriting and rerighting our position in history. Indigenous peoples want to tell our own stories, write our own versions, in our own ways for our own purposes. It is not simply about giving an oral account or a genealogical naming of the land and the events which raged over it, but a very powerful need to give testimony to and restore a spirit, to bring back  into existence a world fragmented and dying. The sense of history conveyed by these approaches is not the same thing as the discipline of history, and so our accounts collide, crash into each other.” (p.28)

The works in this exhibition address, double vision in the form of a political and personal response to the images selected from the Museum’s photographic archives.  It is my hope that these new works present a visual confrontation, an argument with premise that should be critically reviewed and endlessly questioned.

Click here to view a full essay about this project and exhibition written
by Veronica Passalacqua and published by University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


 


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