March 19, 2007

I, Our, and We

Posted by: Ymelda Rivera

Hello! My name is Ymelda Rivera and I am a 2006 graduate of the UW Museology program and a former student employee in the Burke Museum’s ethnography division. My life, work, and studies focus on the issues of cultural representation in museums, history, and the visual arts. It’s this interest which led me to check out the Burke’s new contemporary indigenous photography exhibit: Our People, Our Land, Our Images.

When walking into the exhibit, it was beautifully apparent that true stories of real life had been photographically mapped on the walls of the Burke Museum. The collection of insightful, humorous, and personal photographs and statements travel across landscapes and through time with a lens that is reflective of a varied indigenous perspective. Not one subject or artist is “vanishing;” no one is the subject of an ethnographic study, at least not as it has historically been defined. Any visitor can see that there is no “they,” no “other,” no “exotic Native” in the room; there is only “I,” “our,” and “we.”

It is gratifying and visually compelling to witness cultural stories that live within the lens of an artist interpreting a moment in their lives and in history. These artists invite and challenge the viewer to take part in a dialogue that rethinks the stories and images that create history, identity, and popular culture, especially as it pertains to the misconceptions of indigenous identity. It is indeed a welcome dose of dialogue and reality that all museums need.

If anyone is interested in additional intellectual and visual fodder, I recommend taking a stroll down campus to Kane Hall where one can find a permanently exhibited collection created by the University of Washington and the Washington State Arts Commission’s Art in Public Places Program that speaks to similar themes of identity and representation.

- Ymelda