Examining violence in “The Vanishing Race” at Honnold

By Meagan McIntyre '17Staff Writer

It is said works of art exist fully only when they are put on display. It’s the interaction of the piece with the viewer that solidifies it as art. Further, when a piece is deemed art, many times the artist is hailed for creating beauty, and, context, most of the time, is ignored. Do images, if beautiful, mask different types of violence behind them? Exploring this concept, the Core I program brought in a gallery of photographs taken by Edward Curtis, depicting Native Americans in their ancestral states. He spent nearly 30 years traveling around the United States and finding tribes to photograph. The exhibit, which showcases nearly 100 of these photographs, is titled “The Vanishing Race.” The process of bringing these unique and century-old photographs to Claremont was a strenuous one. The preparation included first securing the exhibition space. The exhibit will be on view not only for this year, but also for the next two years in this Core I cycle. Student workers prepped the photos, and professionals were required to come in and install the exhibition. Professor Ken Gonzales-Day, the Special Collections staff at Honnold/Mudd, as well as many others helped bring this interesting exhibit to Claremont. With the subject matter of Core, regarding violence, it is hard to ignore the structural and symbolic violence that these pictures encapsulate. These images are frequently looked upon as photographs re-victimizing the victim. The disparity in power between the Native Americans and Edward Curtis was undoubtedly present during the time; however, the beauty that these images capture doesn’t necessarily need to be overlooked. “The fact that the images continue to be valued in so many American Indian communities suggests that one should not be too quick to discard [this] project,” said Gonzales-Day. The gallery filled with sepia-toned pictures showcases many portraits and some “action” shots of Native Americans, many of which Curtis staged himself. He paid his models to don their traditional outfits and pose for a picture. Not only that, but he brought along with him various props that he would give to the Native Americans to put on. Most notably, Curtis would take blankets on his travels and ask his models to wrap it around themselves. One of the most striking images is titled “Waihusiwa, A Zuni Kyaqimassi.” It displays a man named Kyaqimassi with a blanket wrapped his body as well as the bottom of his face. His mouth is completely concealed, as if indicating the audience his voice has been taken away from him. Along with several other photographs with natives wearing blankets, Edward Curtis also captured the tribes clothed in their traditional garments. Another stunning image titled “Oasis in the Badlands” depicts a native man seemingly dressed in traditional clothing, on a horse in the plain lands under a stormy sky. Perhaps the most powerful image is “Vanishing Race-Navaho.” It pictures Native Americans on the backs of horses with packs, riding off into the distance. It symbolizes their being driven off their land and forced into an unknown future. No matter if you feel the images re-victimize the victims or simply capture a culture that was unjustly targeted, it is a great opportunity to go check out “The Vanishing Race” exhibit. It is important that we study these acts of violence in the past, and consider the impacts violence had on these people. The exhibition is ongoing until December 6th, 2013 on the second floor of the Honnold Library.