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 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 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 countries from Myanmar to Ukraine. We facilitated discussions about policy issues in the fellows’ home countries, discovering similarities across cultures and struggles for justice. After the tour, many fellows committed to better centering Indigenous Peoples in their work, and I had gained a wealth of firsthand knowledge from a group of humans who courageously chose to lead with their hearts. I will remain forever grateful to have shared space with these incredible people!

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 a portfolio which largely consisted of documentaries I had co-created with Indigenous leaders. If they were not present to help direct the creative vision, I would be committing plagiarism. In my practice, I believe that a documentarian should fully collaborate with participants in order to ensure the production of the most accurate narrative possible, using the most ethical methods possible (and that they are inextricably intertwined).

But while this may seem like common sense to many, it is unfortunately an unpopular philosophy in much of the world of documentary, where directors and their crews have exerted unearned authority or even ultimate control over narratives that are not their own. Additionally, museums and galleries have been a place where the human remains and cultural artifacts of Native Peoples have been stolen and put on display in spaces that are inaccessible. Without direction from my co-creators, I would be reinforcing a power dynamic, regardless of my own Tribal citizenship, and could even be contributing to the centuries of appropriation, exploitation, and Othering which has defined the world of museums and galleries for centuries.

After I voiced my concerns to the curation team, they suggested I create a new work from my portfolio that would challenge audiences to think critically about the questions I raised regarding documentary ethics. But while no one explicitly forbid me from repurposing their work into something new, I assumed they would object. This is simply because I would have objected. Most people know so very little about Native people that it is already a struggle for people to accept my work as it currently exists. I feel like one of the primary goals of any piece I create featuring Native people has to do a lot of work to dispel misconceptions. If I were to create a beautiful postmodern monstrosity, which I would have loved to do in another context, I could not imagine how an audience would respond. However, I doubted it would dispel the misconceptions necessary for an audience to see my work how I intended, and it could even lead them to draw undesirable conclusions.

I was frustrated I could not create the installation I wanted to, or even to simply display my work, because of real ethical considerations that existed because of deeply entrenched systems of power in which I had no interest in being complicit. This exhibit is the outcome of that frustration. It is completely about dispelling these misconceptions I wish I never had to in order to be understood.

still\ˈstil \ featured a series of English words and their definitions, framed from 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 topics 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 an uninformed audience by hanging words 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 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 an expression of urgency and a hope that the audience would commit these definitions to memory. I also saw it as a play on the power dynamic of language learning. Many Indigenous languages are critically endangered, and people are fighting dearly to hold onto them. Now, a majority English-speaking audience would be more likely to think deeply about their own means of expression.