“Visual Sovereignty,” a conference and exhibition on international indigenous photography, will begin tomorrow with an opening reception at 5 p.m. at the UC Davis‘ C.N. Gorman Museum located in Hart Hall.
“‘Visual Sovereignty‘ is about ownership, and the ability to mediate and control dissemination of one’s own images. It’s done respectfully within the [native] community, and it’s cognizant of the protocols of those nations. It’s about the right to photograph one’s own community, so that it’s not anthropological tourism,” said Victoria Passalacqua, the museum’s curator.
The conference will feature over thirty of the world’s foremost indigenous photographers from the U.S. mainland, Hawaii, Canada, Australia and Aotearoa (Maori for ‘New Zealand‘).
An opening reception, held 5 to 8 p.m. tomorrow at the Gorman, will welcome participating artists with a potluck-style dinner (including Indian Tacos from the Native American Student Union), as well as dance and drum performances by various campus groups.
“Hosting is one of the important things for native gatherings; one of the ways that we’ve done that is learning about the artists … we’ve made necklaces for them, as welcoming gifts,” said Jerold Blain, a graduate student in Native American studies and a member of the Benton-Paiute nation.
Artist Panel Sessions will take place from 9 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. on Apr. 4 and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Apr. 5 in the Sciences Lecture Hall. Panels each feature presentations by five artists, and are loosely organized around particular topics, like “Political Perspectives” and “Visioning Landscapes and Communities.“
Aimee Ratana, a member of the Ngai Tuhoe tribe from Aotearoa, will speak about her work on Saturday’s “Political Perspectives” panel.
“As a photographer of Maori descent I hold a responsibility to Maori to portray our people and our culture with consideration and integrity … my image making is a tool that allows me to express issues of identity, being of Tuhoe descent but being dislocated from [the] area,” Ratana said. “The self portraits express the pride and honor that I hold in being of Tuhoe descent.“
A focus on photography provides the strongest method by which to convey the spirit of visual sovereignty, Passalacqua said.
“Photography has an immediacy that visitors react [to] … There is a strong visual narrative that people seem to be able to interpret more easily than other media. At the same time, photography has been used to create visual images – stereotypes – of native peoples everywhere, and its photography that can redress that,” Passalacqua said.
The exhibition features several generations of indigenous photographers, from graduate students to world-renowned professionals.
“It brings together photographers from a variety of backgrounds … to showcase the contemporary reality of indigenous peoples,” Blain said.
“Visual Sovereignty” was made possible by grants from the Ford Foundation and the University of California Humanities Research Institute.
The C.N. Gorman Museum is located within Hart Hall. Founded in 1973 by the Department of Native American studies, it is one of three public art museums on the UC Davis campus, and one of only a handful in the world that specializes in contemporary indigenous art. Visit gormanmuseum.ucdavis.edu for more information.
ANDRE LEE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.