Selected Exhibits

Indigenous Land Relationships Interactive Audio Exhibit

This is the virtual component of the Indigenous Land Relationships Interactive Audio Exhibit, an installation at the Sarah P. Duke Gardens of Duke University. For this exhibit, I conducted oral history interviews with Indigenous Peoples throughout the Carolinas, working under their direction to appropriately share Tribal knowledge with a public audience. In the “physical world,” each webpage is an individual plaque with a QR-code that directs visitors to an oral history excerpt. The Sarah P. Duke Gardens sees 500,000+ annual visitors from around the world, which presents a tremendous opportunity to fight Indigenous erasure by responsibly educating a global audience.

In the spring of 2023, I had the privilege of providing a guided tour of this installation with an elder from the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation (the Native Nation on whose land Duke University sits) for the U.S. Department of State Hubert H. Humphrey Fellows. This was a group of around twenty leaders in international human rights work, representing many countries from Myanmar to Ukraine. We facilitated discussions about policy issues in the fellows’ home countries, discovering many similarities across cultural lines and struggles for justice. After the tour, many fellows committed to better centering Indigenous Peoples in their work back home, and I had gained a wealth of knowledge which changed many of my perspectives. I will be forever grateful to have shared space with these incredible humans dedicated to making their homes a better place for all.

still\ˈstil \

In the Fall of 2021, I was awarded the opportunity to exhibit my work at the hip Powerplant Gallery in downtown Durham, N.C. But after meeting with the curator, I realized that I could not ethically create an installation from my portfolio, which consisted largely of documentaries made in deep collaboration with Indigenous Peoples. As part of these collaborations, I was given specific rules about how information could be shared, and a distant installation which would almost solely benefit my career was not discussed.

Initially, the curation team suggested I create new work from my existing portfolio that would challenge audiences to think critically about documentary ethics. But although no elders explicitly forbid me from repurposing their work into a new piece for the colonial gaze, I knew they would probably object. And if I were them, knowing what I do about the typical gallery audience, I would never consent. I realized that, regardless of my Tribal citizenship, doing anything without my participants’ consent, participation, and direction would be contributing to the centuries of appropriation, exploitation, and Othering which has defined the world of museums and galleries.

I was shocked to be met with confusion when I voiced my concerns. In hindsight, I should have anticipated this, because the vast majority of my peers and professors knew almost nothing accurate about Indigenous Peoples, past or present. Indeed, whenever I told non-Indigenous people about heritage, an identity over which I had no control, I was often met with ludicrous skepticism. Instead of being fully accepted as a human being, who all have complicated histories, as far as I’m aware, I was judged for departing from their harmful and utterly inaccurate views of racial or cultural purity, even though I had stronger connections to kinship, community, and culture than many other Tribal citizens.

I think Indigenous Peoples are judged more harshly than any other people groups for not adhering to arbitrary and conceptions of racial and cultural purity. While many of my POC and international friends had complicated connections and disconnections to community and culture, people readily accepted their complex stories and were rightfully empathetic to them. Conversely, every single one of my Indigenous friends and colleagues were subjected to the same painful Othering that I experienced, rather than being accepted as a complex human. I was sick of it, so I dusted off my “high art hat” and attempted to do something a little more radical.

still\ˈstil \ featured a series of English words defined from Indigenous perspectives I learned in my own upbringing and from Indigenous knowledge keepers with whom I worked across the U.S. These definitions included personal vignettes, framing my heritage in a way that an Othering-audience would have no choice but to relate to on human terms. I printed these definitions on large, page-like poster boards and hung them on six movable walls, grouped in sets of two. This put the definitions on equal footing with the audience and gave me the opportunity to highlight specific relationships that would likely be foreign to a non-Indigenous audience by hanging them next to each other or on opposing surfaces. The definition of the word “still” appeared on polar ends of the exhibit, in massive didactics on the gallery’s opposing walls. I thought this was the most important definition for combating Indigenous erasure and Othering, and I wanted to literally center the rest of the installation within it.

I chose to repeat the same, six definitions multiple times. Part of the reason for this repetition was revenge for the many times I had felt forced to justify my humanness on someone else’s terms. Now, I wanted a majority non-Indigenous audience to be forced to contend with my definitions, and maybe even commit some of them to memory. I believed it would do a lot of good in the world if they did. It was also a play on the power dynamic of language learning. The Chickasaw language is critically endangered because of colonialism, and I am struggling to learn it before I am forever disconnected from my ancestors. Now, many audience members would be forced to relearn their traditional language, too.

This exhibit was an attempt to show a non-Indigenous audience what they should have already known about Indigenous Peoples rather than what they wanted to know. It is also my best attempt at making an Indigenous and human audience feel seen in the gallery in a way they unfortunately had never been before.