Conversation XVII: Photographic Memory

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20/21 Gallery Conversation / Alcove

Using works on paper from the Spencer’s collection, including pieces that have never been on display, this exhibition explores the intersections between emerging photographic traditions and evolving understandings of Native American culture in the late 19th century. Photographic Memory invites viewers to use hindsight and cultural sensitivity to question traditional notions of ethnicity, identity, and authenticity, especially as they relate to indigenous communities in post-colonial contexts. Highlights include documentary photographs of American Indian life in the northern Great Plains and a selection of commercial studio portraits that circulated in the last decades of the 19th century.

To broaden the conversation, a selection of newly acquired works by contemporary artists will be shown alongside historic photographs. Among the contemporary selections is a series titled An Indian from India by photographer Annu Palakunnathu Matthew; the artist pairs reprinted 19th-century portraits of Native Americans with self-portraits in which she poses in similar scenarios, using modern digital technologies to recreate historic photographic processes to uncanny effect. Photographic Memory encourages us to consider how moments in American history, saved for posterity on film, continue to reverberate today.


Selected exhibition images