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At the entrance to the massive exhibition "In Our Hands: Native Photography, 1890 to Now" in the Minneapolis Institute of Art's Target Gallery, there is a photograph of an Osage woman standing in profile, wearing a maroon dress and various floral scarves, her hair tied back in a braid. The photo was taken by Ryan RedCorn, an Osage filmmaker, photographer and screenwriter. It is part of his ongoing series of portraits of Osage people, images that he hopes give people a chance to "see us the way we see ourselves … with love," as he explains on his Instagram account.

It's fitting that his picture serves as an introduction to a show of photographs shot by Native people, for Native people. In taking back the gaze, Native photographers push back on colonial narratives by white photographers like Edward Curtis that are more typical to see in Western, Eurocentric museums.

This ambitious exhibition, which includes more than 150 pictures by and for Indigenous people, creates space for histories and Indigenous cultures from the Rio Grande to the Arctic Circle. The show was collaboratively organized by Mia Associate Curator of Native American Art Jill Ahlberg Yohe, Mia Curator Casey Riley, guest curator and photojournalist Jaida Grey Eagle (Oglala Lakota) and a curatorial council of 14 advisers. Decisions for the project were "grounded in Indigenous methodologies, the tenets of which include consensus, relationship building, mutual respect, and reciprocity," according to the catalog.

The show is organized into three extremely broad sections: A World of Relations, Always Leaders and Always Present. There is a lot of imagery to sift through, and while it would be easy to say that more curatorial work is needed to make this show accessible, the notion of the curator is very much a Western construction that centers this individual in a position of power within a Eurocentric museum structure.

What happens when there are many cooks in the kitchen? There are a lot of dishes. The collaborative curatorial project of this show matches the show's ideology, but that also makes connecting the dots more labor-intensive for the viewer. There is no privileging of certain types of pictures over others; the curators and curatorial advisory council stated that anything taken by Native people was of interest, from snapshots to high-end art photos. (For more guidance, there is an audio guide available.)

Erica Lord's brilliant photograph "Untitled (I Tan to Look More Native)," 2006, from her Tanning Project series, where she challenges and disrupts colonial narratives by imprinting the texts "Indian Looking" and "Colonize Me" onto her body while tanning, is in the last section of the show. Lord, who is of Athabascan, Iñupiat, Finnish, Swedish and Japanese American descent, offers powerful commentary on racist colonial narratives about how Native people "should" look.

In Frank Big Bear's (White Earth Nation) huge assemblage "We Are Still Here," 2014, he organizes small photo collages in a grid, mixing imagery like the Hollywood Sign and the U.S. flag with references to Wounded Knee and the American Indian Movement. Jenny Irene Miller's (Iñupiaq) portrait "Cam," 2016, is part of the photographer's series of queer and/or nonbinary Indigenous people. (The Iñupiaq people traditionally live in the northernmost region of what is now Alaska.)

Rapheal Begay's (Diné, [Navajo]) curious photograph "Rez-Dog" (Hunter's Point, Ariz.), 2017, shows a snarling wild dog stealing the head of a lamb after a post-butchering celebration. On its own the photo would be sort of ordinary, but the thoughtful wall label written by the artist brings it to life, particularly the reflections like "I look at it in the same light as how we treat our unsheltered relatives. There's this sense of concern, empathy, but there is a lack of responsibility or commitment to help."

To experience this exhibition, show up, stay open-minded and let your curiosity guide the way. Each of the photographs has a life of its own. In researching this exhibition, I ended up back on Instagram, where I learned more about Ryan RedCorn than I would have just wandering through the show. This exhibition is a starting point for broader and bigger conversations about Native photography and where it is going next.


"In Our Hands: Native Photography, 1890 to Now"

When: Ends Jan. 14.

Where: Minneapolis Institute of Art, 2400 3rd Av. S.

Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue., Wed., Fri.-Sun.; 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Thu.

Cost: $20.

Info: or 612-870-3000.