Aperture and the Museum of Contemporary Photography have teamed up on this powerful exhibition exploring Indigenous issues. Curated by Wendy Red Star, who guest-edited the fall 2020 issue of Aperture magazine, the show touches on the countless matters surrounding the forceful colonization of what is now called America. Through their work, the nine Native artists discuss land rights, identity, gender and the devastating wrongs perpetrated on Indigenous people in this country. It is a history fraught with violence, misunderstanding and heinous crimes against humanity. Films like “Killers of the Flower Moon” bring to light the horrors we as American students never learned about in school, leaving us shocked and ashamed. This exhibition allows a dialogue to emerge, feelings and beliefs to be shared. There can be no more saying “we didn’t know”—truth and the remnants of all that have happened spill from these artists in an articulate way, impossible to ignore, necessary and critical if there is to be reparation, or at least acknowledgment, on the part of our country as a whole.
Rebecca Belmore (Anishinaabe, Lac Seul First Nation) uses her own body to focus on injustice against First Nation women. In her image titled “Matriarch,” Belmore sits proudly in profile wearing a cape created from fur and red roses. In her image “Spider Woman Embrace,” Koyoltzintli, an Ecuadorian American descended from the Manta people, speaks of the traditional myths of her people in this and her other images in the show. Like Belmore, she uses her own body to express her claim to the lands and traditions of her people.
Duane Linklater, (Omaskêko Ininiwak, Moose Cree First Nation) uses a 1995 issue of Aperture magazine, writing and drawing on the pages, and folding them in patterns common to Native beading and quiltwork. Alan Michelson (Mohawk, Six Nations of the Grand River) photographs projections of stolen lands on a bust of George Washington. In another work suspended in the small side gallery, the artist projects onto a red trade blanket rare footage that depicts Native veterans of the Battle of the Greasy Grass in a 1926 parade.
Martine Gutierrez, of Mayan heritage, has created a 124-page fashion magazine based on her performance in various items of clothing and objects found in Mexican and Central American markets, fashioning an entire world for a Native, queer woman. There are also pieces by Nalikutaar Jacqueline Cleveland (Yup’ik) from Alaska, Guadalupe Maravilla (Salvadorian American) who fled El Salvador in 1984 as an unaccompanied minor, and the late Kimowan Metchewais (Cree, Cold Lake First Nations), each compelling in their own way.
However, the defining star of the exhibition is the quiet but dominant installation by Marianne Nicolson (Musgamakw Dzaeadg’enuxw) that uses light from above to project patterns of Native symbols like bears, lightning, rivers, mountains, eagles and thunderbirds onto the floor where they lie like a hand-woven rug or Native sand painting. Symbols are the language of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas—Nicolson unlocks their power.
“Native America: In Translation” is on view at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, 600 South Michigan, through May 12.