Major Survey of Contemporary Indigenous Photography to Open at the Carter in October 2022
The first presentation of its kind, Speaking with Light to feature the work of over 30 Indigenous artists, including site-responsive installations by Kapulani Landgraf, Jolene Rickard, and Sarah Sense
Marking one of the first major museum surveys to explore the practices of Indigenous photographers working today, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art (the Carter) will present Speaking with Light: Contemporary Indigenous Photography in October 2022. Contemporary photography-based works will spotlight the dynamic ways in which more than 30 Indigenous artists have leveraged their lenses over the past three decades to reclaim representation and affirm their existence, perspectives, and trauma. Among many milestone works, this sweeping multimedia exhibition will feature acclaimed prints by Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie (Taskigi/Diné), Wendy Red Star (Apsáalooke), and Nicholas Galanin (Tlingit/Unangax̂); site-responsive installations by Kapulani Landgraf (Kanaka ‘Ōiwi) and Jolene Rickard (Skarù·ręʔ/Tuscarora); and a new large-scale photo weaving by Sarah Sense (Choctaw/Chitimacha), which has been commissioned by the Carter. Organized by the Carter and co-curated by the Museum’s Senior Curator of Photographs, John Rohrbach, and artist Will Wilson, a citizen of the Navajo Nation and Photography Program Head at Santa Fe Community College, Speaking with Light will be on view at the Carter from October 30, 2022, through January 22, 2023.
Speaking with Light showcases the evolution of cultural affirmation and institutional critique in photography through the prolific output of young and mid-career artists such as Jeremy Dennis (Shinnecock), Sky Hopinka (Ho-Chunk Nation/Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians), Dylan McLaughlin (Diné), and Cara Romero (Chemehuevi), along with their generational forebearers, including Shelley Niro (Member of the Six Nations Reserve, Turtle Clan, Bay of Quinte Mohawk), Tom Jones (Ho-Chunk), and Zig Jackson (Mandan/Hidatsa/Arikara). Brought together, these photographs, videos, three-dimensional works, and digital activations forge a mosaic investigation into identity, resistance, and belonging. Reflecting a wide spectrum of distinct cultures and creative practices, the exhibition is an outgrowth of the Carter’s broader collecting initiative dedicated to amplifying Indigenous artists’ contributions to the history of photography and American visual identity.
“Furthering our mission to seed critical conversations with the history of American art, the Carter is proud to present this watershed exhibition as a testament to the dedication, rigor, and empathy of the artists, community members, and scholars who have brought it life,” said Andrew J. Walker, Executive Director. “Mobilizing the strength of our photography program, we’re committed to elevating the voices and innovation of Indigenous artists, and we look forward to supporting the rich scholarship and recognition that the stories centered in Speaking with Light command.”
With over 70 works, the exhibition is presented in thematic sections contemplating the camera’s role in shaping shared scars and empowerments:
- Prelude: State to State: Enmeshing past and present, the exhibition opens with 19th-century photographs from the Carter’s collection, which were made in conjunction with treaty negotiations between Indigenous Nations and the U.S. government. These portraits illustrate Indigenous leaders’ use of the nascent medium as a tool for projecting power, agency, and dignity through their chosen attire as they posed for U.S. photographers. Amid these compelling images, Will Wilson’s “Talking Tintype” portrait of Enoch Haney—former principal chief of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma—vividly carries these early photographic encounters into the present day, tracing a through line to questions of identity, governance, and sovereignty in the 21st century.
- Survivance: In this immersive section, Indigenous photographers use humor, pathos, anger, and declaration to defy erasure and stereotyping. Among many important works demanding recognition of Indigenous existence, rights, and cultural commitment are Remaining A Child (2017) by the late Shan Goshorn (Eastern Band Cherokee); Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie’s Photographic Memoirs of an Aboriginal Savant (Living on Occupied Land) (1994); the 2005 video work Redman, by Erica Lord (Athabaskan/Iñupiaq/ Finnish/Swedish/Japanese) and Noelle Mason; selections from the Carter’s complete portfolio of Wendy Red Star’s Accession series (2019); and Nicholas Galanin’s large-scale Fair Warning: A Sacred Place - Supernatural Spirits and Animals (2019), also from the Carter’s collection.
- Nation: Magnifying personal experience and assertion of self, this section complicates binaries of belonging and alienation as its works explore the meaning of “home.” Artists including Sky Hopinka and Cara Romero celebrate persistence and community, while Kali Spitzer (Kaska Dena/Jewish) and Kiliii Yüyan (Nanai/Hèzhé and Chinese-American) confront isolation, poverty, addiction, and prejudices against members of the LBGTQ community. Also featured in this section is Alan Michelson’s (Mohawk member of Six Nations of the Grand River) important video Mespat (2001), presented on the artist's 14-foot screen made of white turkey feathers, and Kapulani Landgraf’s site-responsive reinstallation of ‘Au’a (2019).
- Indigenous Visuality: The culminating section celebrates photography as a conduit for Indigenous worldviews with works that embrace spirit, myth, and a deep connection with the natural world while negotiating systems of settler colonialism. From Tom Jones’ Peyton Grace Rapp (2017), and Ryan RedCorn’s (Osage) Everett Waller, 𐓺𐓪͘𐓺𐓪𐓧𐓣 𐓷𐓘𐓩𐓘𐓯𐓣 (Hominy Whipman) (2021); to the 1491s’ extended vignette, Smiling Indians (2011); to site-responsive installations by Jolene Rickard and Sara Sense, the artists featured here construct a space of belonging in their work while calling on visitors and institutions alike to recognize the vitality of Indigenous cultures and outlooks.
- Conclusion: The exhibition closes by drawing attention to the global reach of Indigenous visual expression with a hands-on presentation of the online database Indigenous Photograph.
“Through our vast range of lenses—cultural, geographic, generational, and gender—the creators featured in Speaking with Light crystalize a vibrant reclaiming of personal and communal representation,” said co-curator Will Wilson. “We invite visitors to lean into discomfort and counter-narratives to access a different understanding of our world—one that provides healthier relationships with each other and the earth. Drawing the institution and its audience into this Indigenous space lays the groundwork for the Carter to become an important site of contemporary Indigenous photography practices and research.”
“It’s a remarkable experience having so many pivotal voices converge in this complex conversation,” said Senior Curator of Photographs, John Rohrbach. “Speaking with Light is a symbol of the vitality of contemporary Indigenous photography, acknowledging the diversity of Indigenous artists who are confronting the story of America with acuteness and passion.”
Authored wholly by Indigenous scholars—including National Museum of the American Indian, Associate Curator, Paul Chaat Smith (Comanche); University of California, Los Angeles, Professor of Gender Studies, Mishuana Goeman (Tonawanda Band of Seneca); Metropolitan Museum of Art, Associate Curator of Native American art, Patricia Marroquin Norby (Purepéche (Tarascan)/Eastern Apache); University of New Mexico, Professor of American Studies, Jennifer Nez Denetdale (citizen of the Navajo Nation); and featured artist and Cornell University, Associate Professor of History of Art and Visual Studies, Jolene Rickard—the exhibition’s accompanying publication by Radius Books presents a summary statement on the dynamism of Indigenous photography today and fills a critical gap for the field.
Speaking with Light: Contemporary Indigenous Photography is organized by the Amon Carter Museum of American Art. The exhibition is co-curated by John Rohrbach, Senior Curator of Photographs, and Will Wilson, Photography Program Head at Santa Fe Community College and a citizen of the Navajo Nation. Major support for the exhibition is provided by the Henry Luce Foundation. Additional support is generously provided by Debra and Ken Hamlett, The Kerlee-Wollenberg Family Fund, and Ann and Russell Morton. The accompanying publication is supported in part by the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation.