Native History Through a Native Lens at the MIA

Christine Horner, copy editor

The Minneapolis Institute of Art is currently hosting an exhibit titled “In Our Hands: Native Photography, 1890 to Now.” It’s a curated collection of photographs of Native people by Native people, and is accompanied by a very interesting and informative audio guide. When entering the exhibit, I was faced with a stunning side profile of Celena White taken by photographer Ryan RedCorn. White was draped in purple, red and turquoise fabrics and had her head lifted high. Behind RedCorn’s portrait was a massive collection of different voices and stories. 

One photographer in particular, Will Wilson, utilized technology in a way that I had never seen before. After downloading an app, I scanned Wilson’s “Insurgent Hopi Maiden” and watched the young woman in the photo, Melissa Pochoema, perform a monologue on my phone. Wilson defined this picture as a “Talking Tintype” in the exhibit. He combined tintype photography with AR (augmented reality) to bring his artwork to life, thus marrying the historic with the modern.

Dakota Mace, a Diné artist who lives in Madison, Wisconsin, embodied Diné storytelling in her collection, “So’ II.” The collection has 40 iterations of different characters, each marked with white splatters and dots – perhaps an interpretation of the night sky. Mace explained that she used chemicals on the photographs while in the light room to create these images. These images were eerie and otherworldly, yet somehow still familiar in that they resembled a starry sky. Looking at them was like looking through treetops on a perfectly clear night, seeing each and every single fiery star and planet. 

An artist whose pictures frequented the exhibit was Peter Pitseolak, who dedicated his life’s work to accurately showcasing the beauty of Inuit life. Although his pictures were in black and white, they were full of color – he captured the rich culture of the Inuits in each and every picture he took. One of these pictures featured a small cabin coupled with a shelter that somewhat resembled an igloo, both nestled on the snowy ground. The harsh angles of the cabin were offset by the rounded edges of the shelter. This balanced the shapes of the two buildings. They complete the cold landscape, creating a sense of home and belonging. 

Another photographer whose pictures graced the exhibit’s walls was Cara Romero, member of the Chemehuevi Indian Tribe of the Mohave Desert. One of her photographs, “Hermosa,” stood out to me in particular because of its powerful contrast between light and shadows. In its center was Romero’s daughter, Crickett Tiger, who appeared strong and unflinching in the face of an oncoming ocean wave.

Strength was certainly a common element throughout this exhibit, both in the artwork and the artists themselves. Strength and resilience are clearly crucial to each artist – but they are not everything. Many photographers in this exhibit seemed to highlight that joy and celebration are also important components of their identities. It was exhilarating to see so many different perspectives being put into the spotlight. I cannot recommend this exhibit enough – anyone who has not seen it yet is missing one of the most educational and beautiful collections I’ve ever seen. It’s open through Jan. 14, 2024, and everyone should definitely check it out.