Between Pageantry and Poverty: Representing Ourselves

June 21, 2010 — 1 Comment
“It often seems as if America has only two frames through which to view its Native culture: ceremony and pageantry or poverty and addiction.”
The New York Times has an incredible slide show on the web of photographs by Adam Sings In The Timber, a member of the Crow Nation in Montana. The above quote is so powerful and so true, and Adam says that his work seeks to fill in the space between the extremes, to show that the members of his Nation are so much more than the stereotypes that abound. He says,
“The rhythm of life on the reservation isn’t that much different from the rest of the country, just on a smaller scale.We have those who live in poverty and those who are upper middle class. The real difference is that we also have our identities as Crows. Those identities stem from our tribe’s culture, language and history.”

The article points out that people just want to see dramatic images, not the “common bonds of normalcy.” Sings In The Timber does an amazing job at striking the balance. Here are some of the images, definitely check out the whole slide show here, and his website here.

(all images (c) Adam Sings In The Timber and can be found here)

I actually really struggled with putting up my post on Thursday about the sexualization of Native women, with the heartbreaking statistics and the film from Current TV. I struggled, because clearly those issues are so incredibly important and need to be brought to the forefront, but at the same time, it continues the process of otherization and helplessness that are so often associated with images of Indigenous Peoples from around the world and in the US.

I worry about feeding those stereotypes and creating a cycle that has been discussed at length by scholars studying the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa–how powerful images of suffering meant to stir viewers to action actually create the opposite affect:

[This type of photography] hinges on the assumption that images of suffering can invoke compassion in viewers, and that this compassion can become a catalyst for positive change. By examining a widely circulated iconic photograph of a Ugandan woman and her child affected by AIDS-related illnesses, we show that such representations can nevertheless feed into stereotypical portrayals of African people as nameless and passive victims, removed from the everyday realities of the western world.

That quote comes from a great academic article called “Representing HIV/AIDS in Africa: Pluralist Photography and Local Empowerment” by Amy Kay. Her solution to the representation issues? Put the cameras in the hands of the local people and create a more nuanced dialog–exactly what Adam Sings In the Timber is doing with his work.

So this is me attempting to bring a balanced portrayal to the table–our tribes and communities are not all about powwow feathers and beads, nor are we completely and totally consumed by poverty, abuse, and addiction. There is truth at both ends of the spectrum, but there is a whole lot in between.  

NYtimes–Familial Bonds Among the Crow: http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/18/showcase-174/

Adam Sings In The Timber’s webpage: http://www.singsinthetimber.com/index.html

“Representing HIV/AIDS in Africa: Pluralist Photography and Local Empowerment”: http://www.ericgottesman.net/isqarticle.pdf

Earlier:

Nudie Neon Indians and the Sexualization of Native Women: http://nativeappropriations.blogspot.com/2010/06/nudie-neon-indian-stage-crashers-and.html

(Thanks so much Katie!)

Adrienne K.

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00537029766728534734 Virtue

    Your blog is not that one post, just as the Native community is not only this one reality or the other. Each story has value, but is ultimately part of a greater, more complex whole that I think you do a good job of illustrating through your various posts.