Robert Hull Fleming Museum


Strong Hearts: Native American Visions and Voices

September 7 - December 9, 1999


Strong hearts: Native American Visions and Voices, remaps Indian territory from a native perspective. (left: David Neel (Kwagiutl), Catherine Adams, Gwa'sala 'Nakkwaxda'xw, Gwa'sala 'Nakkwaxda'xw Reserve, 1990, photograph)

Strong Hearts is comprised of 96 color and black and white photographs taken by 29 Native American photographers which, seen together, paint a multifaceted portrait of contemporary native Indian life. 

A select number of the 19th-century pictures by non Natives provide a reference point for Horace Poolaw's images of changing Kiowa culture.  Through metaphorical images of the Great Plains, Walter Bigbee evokes the spiritual power and presence of the Sun Dance ceremony, a ritual forbidden by the Camanche people to be photographed.  Greg Staat's commanding portraits express the pride of a small nation that rejected government financing in favor of self-government.  Hardships and joys of reservation life are documented by young participants in the Shooting Back from the Reservation project and by seasoned photojournalist Nancy Ackerman.  James Luna makes a compelling case for life on the La Jolla reserve through a verbal collage of statistics illustrated with photographs of his neighbors and their territory.  Jeffrey Thomas's powwow series expresses the vigor and grit of competition dancers as they transform themselves into images of ancestors. 

From the digital portrait by Richard Ray Whitman to Zig Jackson's pictures of white tourists photographing Indians, these images challenge the parameters of art, as well as our perceptions of Indian photography.

Photographs of Native Americans by Native Americans provide an unfiltered vision that runs counter to prevailing stereotypes.  Here are many different truths about contemporary narrative live:  images of pride, despair, joy, and anger by photographers who inhabit the world they portray. The strength and immediacy of these images alone demonstrates photography's power to alter convenient attitudes about indigenous people. The exhibition provides illuminating insights on the uses of photography to remember history and tradition, and to redefine native identities and culture.

The accompanying catalogue includes essays and poetry by prominent Native American writers including Paul Chaat Smith, Theresa Harlan, Linda Hogan, N. Scott Momady, Jolene Rickard, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Luci Tapahanso.

The exhibition was organized by the Aperture Foundation, a non profit organization well known for its presentation of distinguished historical and contemporary photography through book publishing, exhibition, and education programs. The exhibition at the Fleming is sponsored by the Vermont Council on the Humanities, under grant from the National endowment for the Humanities:  the LEF foundation; and Museum members.

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