YOU DON’T LOOK NATIVE TO ME
BY MARIA STURM
“You don‘t look Native to me is a quote and the title of a body of work, that shows excerpts from the lives of young Native Americans from around Pembroke, Robeson County, North Carolina, where 89% of the city’s population identifies as Native American. The town is the tribal seat of the Lumbee Indian Tribe of North Carolina, the largest state-recognized Native American tribe east of the Mississippi River, which means they are federally unrecognized and therefore have no reservation nor any monetary benefits.
I am tracing their ways of self-representation, transformed through history, questions of identity with which they are confronted on a daily basis, and their reawakening pride in being Native. The work consists of portraits, along with landscapes and places, interiors, still lives, and situations. The aesthetic framework that is presented offers clues – sometimes subtle, sometimes loud – for imparting a feeling for their everyday lives.
My work engages an unfamiliar mix of concepts: a Native American tribe whose members are ignored by the outside world, who do not wear their otherness on their physique, but who are firm in their identity. Through photography, video and interviews, I am investigating what happens when social and institutional structures break down and people are forced to rely on themselves for their own resources. This raises questions to the viewer regarding one’s own identity and membership to the unspecified mainstream.
This work was started in 2011.”
Since 2011, Maria Sturm has photographed teenagers from the Lumbee tribe in and around Pembroke, North Carolina, where almost 90 percent of the population identifies as Native American. Unlike other native tribes, the Lumbee were not forced to move during colonial expansion and have subsequently maintained a strong connection to their land. Sturm’s series You Don’t Look Native to Me considers how young Native people present themselves today in relation to their identity and culture. At first glance, Sturm’s photographs might appear to depict the daily life of a community almost anywhere in America, but elements of hybridity—Halloween fangs on a child in Tuscarora regalia; dreamcatchers and a school portrait on a living room wall—signify the mixing of heritage and contemporary culture.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Maria Sturm (b. 1985, Romania) received a diploma in Photography from FH Bielefeld in 2012 and a MFA in Photography from Rhode Island School of Design. She is a Fulbright and DAAD scholar. She has won several prizes including the New York Photo Award 2012 and the DOCfield Dummy Award Barcelona 2015 with the work Be Good.
Her most recent work You don't look Native to me about the unrecognized Lumbee tribe of North Carolina was nominated for Vonovia Award, shortlisted for PhotoLondon La Fabrica Book Dummy Award and made the 2nd place at Unseen Dummy Award. It was published in British Journal of Photography and Filmbulletin and exhibited in the German Consulate New York, Clamp Art New York, Wiesbadener Fototage, Encontros da Imagem, at Artists Unlimited Bielefeld and at Aperture Foundation New York among others.
It will be next shown at Addis Foto Fest and Photo Vogue Festival.
Having met in during a month-long residency at Atelier de Visu Marseille and workshop with Antoine d'Agata in 2012 Cemre Yeşil and Maria Sturm kept in touch ever since. Their permanent exchange led them to start a collaboration and in 2014 they have photographed For Birds' Sake, a work about the Birdmen of Istanbul. This work was published as a photobook by La Fabrica Madrid and featured in Colors Magazine, The Guardian, British Journal of Photography and ZEITmagazin among others. It was exhibited during Internacional de Fotografa de Cabo Verde, FotoIstanbul, Bitume Photofest Lecce, Organ Vida International Photography Festival Zagreb, Format Festival Derby, Darmstädter Tage der Fotografie and at Daire Gallery, Sol Koffler Providence, La Fabrica Madrid, Pavlov's Dog Berlin, Deichtorhallen Hamburg and it was a finalist at PHE OjodePez Award for Human Values 2015 and Renaissance Photography Prize 2017 and nominated for Lead Awards 2016 and Henri-Nannen-Preis 2016. It was also shortlisted at Arles Author Book Award 2016 and Prix Levallois 2017.