Black Indian With a Camera: The Work of Valena Broussard Dismukes

Posted in Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, Papers/Presentations, Women on 2013-04-15 02:01Z by Steven

Black Indian With a Camera: The Work of Valena Broussard Dismukes

Southeastern Oklahoma University
Native American Symposium
2005-Proceedings of the Sixth Native American Symposium
pages 40-46

Sarita Cannon
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

In this paper, I examine the liberatory photography of a living African-Choctaw-French American artist, Valena Broussard Dismukes. I am especially fascinated by the way in which Dismukes takes the camera, an object that had previously been used as a weapon of oppression against Native Americans and people of African descent, and uses it to capture the spirit of twenty-first-century Black Indians on their own terms. In her series of portrait photographs entitled “Red-Black Connection: The Cultural Heritage of Black Native Americans,” Dismukes highlights the varied experience of Black Indians in the United States and forces her viewers to reevaluate their notions of what a “real” Indian and what a “real” Black person look like….

…The verbal narratives that accompany many of the portraits highlight many issues that contemporary Black Indians face, including the difficulty of tracing their lineage and the responses they receive from others about their authenticity or lack thereof. However, generally the narratives celebrate Black Indian Identity. A few of Dismukes’ subjects discuss how their own family members obscured their “true” ancestry. For instance, Elnora Tena Webb Mitchell (of Cherokee/Blackfeet descent) writes, “My grandparents and other members of my family were identified as Native American. However, there is much information about our ancestry that is kept secret. Being Native American is not revered nor honored by many family members.” It is interesting to note here that it is not the Black blood that is repressed, but rat her it is the Indian ancestry. It was not always advantageous to be identified as Black rather than Native. This choice depended upon historical and geographical context. Still others note how they are viewed as “wannabes” who are trying to distance themselves from Blackness. Gene “Quietwalker” Holmes of Comanche descent says, “There have been people from both communities who react to my heritage on a negative basis and ask, ‘Who or what are you trying to be?’” But Carol Munday Lawrence of Cherokee descent responds to these attacks simply by saying that she is merely discovering her multiple selves: “I fully understand why some fear that to claim Native American, or any other heritage, is to reject one’s Blackness, but this is not about ‘going Native.’ Knowing who your people are, and embracing them all unconditionally, can only enrich your life.” And Stella Vaugh playfully embraces this historical moment in which she can identify as a multiracial person: “In fact, I’m having fun boasting about my mixed-race. I jokingly say I’m 57 Heinz Variety. My mother’s mother is Cherokee and Irish. My father’s mother is Bohemian and his father is Choctaw. I am told that one of my ancestors is black and I’m still searching for that beautiful person.” Vaugh proudly embraces her multiple heritage and openly acknowledges the mystery that still surrounds her ancestry. She symbolizes the twenty-first century Black Indian who is coming out” after living much of her life in a space where she felt the need to repress parts of her identity. If Dismukes’ project can give at least one person the opportunity to feel a sense of dignity about who she is and introduce her to a community of people who also live at the crossroads of Native and African American cultures, then it is, without a doubt, a meaningful political and artistic endeavor…

Read the entire paper here.

Tags: , , , , ,

Searching for the authentic Red-Black self: Depictions of African-Native subjectivity in literature, visual art, and film

Posted in Anthropology, Dissertations, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, Slavery, United States on 2010-09-10 21:11Z by Steven

Searching for the authentic Red-Black self: Depictions of African-Native subjectivity in literature, visual art, and film

University of California, Berkeley
235 pages
AAT 3186996
ISBN: 9780542292071

Sarita Nyasha Cannon, Associate Professor of English
San Francisco State University

In this dissertation, I explore representations of a largely invisible multiracial group: people of Native American and African-American descent. Relying upon the two theoretical frameworks of cultural studies and multiculturalism outlined in Chapter 1, I analyze texts from various genres in order to understand the construction of Black-Red subjectivity. In Chapter 2, I examine the 1848 slave narrative/native autobiography The Life of Dr. Okah Tubbee. Written by a mulatto who passed as the son of a Choctaw chief in order to escape the slavery, this text exemplifies the performative possibilities of autobiography as well as Tubbee’s simultaneous rejection of Blackness and embrace of stereotypical ideas of Indian-ness. In Chapter 3, I look at another figure that straddles African American and Native American cultures, the fictional character of Rayona in Michael Dorris’ 1988 novel A Yellow Raft in Blue Water. Like Tubbee, Rayona negotiates various identities. However, rather than being a somewhat tragic trickster figure who rejects Blackness as Tubbee does, Rayona is able to embrace her multiple subject positions in a variety of contexts. In Chapter 4, I focus on visual representations of African-Native Americans in the sculpture of African-Chippewa artist Edmonia Lewis and in the portraits of African-Choctaw photographer Valena Broussard Dismukes. I argue that despite Lewis’ familiarity with Native culture, she deploys stereotypes about American Indians in an attempt to gain a mainstream audience. Dismukes, on the other hand, creates portraits of contemporary Black Indians who can express their mixed heritage on their own terms. Finally, in Chapter 5, I explore two contemporary documentary films that reflect two opposite narratives of the history of Black-Native subjectivity. Steven Rich Heape’s film Black Indians celebrates people with African-Native heritage and elevates them to a special status. On the other hand, Long Lance, a documentary about a mixed-race man’s rejection of the one-drop rule and his fabrication of various Native American identities, emphasizes the tragic nature of “passing.” Implicit within my exploration of these cultural representations of Black Indians is the elusive quest for racial or cultural “authenticity,” a problematic goal that often unconsciously panders to an essentialized notion of identity. In their attempts to render authentic images of Blacks, Native Americans, and Black-Native Americans, these authors and artists often reinscribe stereotypes about these groups and thus reinforce the very racial and social hierarchies they intend to question.

Purchase the dissertation here.

Tags: , , , , , ,