The Portland Art Museum is proud to organize and present "Contemporary Native Photographers and the Edward Curtis Legacy: Zig Jackson, Wendy Red Star, Will Wilson." This major exhibition will feature contemporary photographs by Native American photographers Zig Jackson, Wendy Red Star, and Will Wilson in dialogue with photographs from Edward Sheriff Curtis’ renowned body of work The North American Indian. This timely exhibition and associated educational programming will ask visitors to consider Curtis’ continuing influence on the interpretation of Native American culture while highlighting contemporary reactions to his complex role within the history of representation of indigenous peoples.
"Contemporary Native Photographers and the Edward Curtis Legacy" will feature more than 70 portfolio prints and all of the volumes in the groundbreaking publication The North American Indian. Funded by financier and philanthropist J.P. Morgan, the 20-book set was published in a limited edition between 1907 and 1930. Curtis’ magnum opus charts the cultural practices, languages, and traditions of more than 80 Native American tribes. Over 1,500 photogravures illustrate the book volumes, and the portfolios hold an additional 700 large-scale images. Rich both for its artistry and historical content, The North American Indian is considered one of the most significant records of Native American culture ever produced by a non-indigenous observer, and the Museum possesses a complete set.
Curtis, a non-Native who believed that Native Americans were a “vanishing race,” produced a meaningful yet romanticized record of tribal life at the turn of the twentieth century. The photographs he included in The North American Indian document significant aspects of daily life and material culture and encouraged nostalgia for a way of life thought to be under threat of elimination. This beautiful but often idealized representation of Native culture has elicited both praise and scrutiny, as many photographs were posed and manipulated in order to eliminate signs of modern life and create the artifice of a pre-European snapshot in time. Yet, because of Curtis’ thorough documentation, some present-day tribal members utilize The North American Indian to identify ancestors and cultural objects critical to their histories.
In response to the current, rich dialogues surrounding Curtis’ photographs, the exhibition will showcase contemporary portraiture by Native American photographers alongside Curtis’ work. In juxtaposing a non-Native lens with Native perspectives, the exhibition asks audiences to think critically about the portrayal of the Native experience through photography and how these images have shaped persistent misconceptions.
Zig Jackson (Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara, b. 1957), is also known as Rising Buffalo. A graduate of the University of New Mexico and the San Francisco Art Institute, he was the first Native American photographer to enter the Library of Congress’ distinguished photography collection. Jackson explores the ways in which popular American culture continues to perpetuate the myth of the “Noble Savage.” He works to dismantle stereotypes and paternal modes of thinking, drawing attention to the power relationship between photographers and their subjects in series including Indian Photographing Tourist Photographing Indian, and Indian Photographing Tourist Photographing Sacred Sites, which are both amusing and painful in their depiction of non-Natives who continue to treat Native Americans as exotic subjects.
Portland-based artist Wendy Red Star (Apsa'alooke, b. 1981), studied sculpture at Montana State University and earned her MFA from UCLA. Raised on the Crow reservation in south-central Montana, her multimedia works explore the intersections of traditional Native American culture and contemporary society. Red Star is creating a new body of two- and- three-dimensional photographic works for the exhibition based on interactions with Curtis’ photographs of Crow Nation and personal experiences at the annual Crow Fair.
Will Wilson (Diné, b. 1969) studied photography at Oberlin College and the University of New Mexico. His project The Critical Indigenous Photographic Exchange engages directly with Curtis’ photographic legacy by replacing the dominant, twentieth-century, non-Native perspective with a twenty-first century, indigenous viewpoint. His subjects actively participate in the photographic portrait process by including significant objects of their own choosing, actively reinserting personal voices and indigenous authority to the portraits. Like Red Star, Wilson is creating new work for the exhibition that reflect on Curtis’ interpretations of Navajo culture.
Contemporary Native Photographers and the Edward Curtis Legacy reflects an invigorated focus on showcasing the work of contemporary Native American artists, which visitors can also experience in the Museum’s recently opened Center for Contemporary Native Art as well as next summer’s special exhibition Native Fashion Now (opening June 4, 2016). To amplify themes and issues raised in Contemporary Native Photographers and the Edward Curtis Legacy, the Museum is organizing a series of public programs including artist talks and projects with Jackson, Red Star, and Wilson; a discussion series bringing together local scholars and thinkers; and a film series focusing on contemporary Native American filmmakers in partnership with the Northwest Film Center.
Contemporary Native Photographers and the Edward Curtis Legacy: Zig Jackson, Wendy Red Star, Will Wilson is organized by the Portland Art Museum and co-curated by Deana Dartt, Ph.D., Curator of Native American Art, and Julia Dolan, Ph.D., The Minor White Curator of Photography. This exhibition is made possible by generous support from Ameriprise Financial and Columbia Threadneedle; The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation; The Kinsman Foundation; Pat and Trudy Ritz; Nani S. Warren / The Swigert Warren Foundation; Jim and Susan Winkler; Linda and Scott Andrews; Travel Portland; Photography Council of the Portland Art Museum; Ray and Jean Auel; and Exhibition Series Sponsors.