I am a Diné multimedia documentarian from the Navajo Reservation, currently living in Los Angeles, California. My first clan is Tátchii’nii (Red Running into the Water), which I use to identify my photography work. I define my work as “Indigenous Realism” because it explores the diverse lives of contemporary American Indians, rather than figures inhabiting some clichéd, pre-modern past. My first project Legacy of Exiled NDNZ kick-started my exploration as an artist living in Los Angeles. Influenced by the Kent Mackenzie neo-realist film The Exiles (1961), the project initially started as a photography narrative that expanded into a short film about the migration of American Indians into urban environments over the history of Los Angeles.
For my next project, I developed a series of images presenting current American Indian actors in the context of Classic Hollywood icons. This project is entitled Real NDNZ Re-Take Hollywood, the aim of this exhibition was to disrupt and decolonize chiched portrayals of Indians seen in classical westerns. The series “re-takes,” or recreates classic portraits of iconic movies stars of yesteryear with contemporary Native American actors. Photographing “Real NDNZ” in the elegant clothing and iconic poses of Audrey Hepburn, Ava Gardner, Elvis Presley and others from the Classic period of Hollywood films – rather than buckskin, braids, and painted faces featured in most Hollywood westerns. This narrative photography project opens new possibilities for seeing Native people as dignified, creative, and contemporary. As for the word used in my work, I use the American Indian pop culture writing of “NDNZ” as a way of self-identifying. It’s written as away of reclaiming ownership of a label or name that the patriarchy had imposed on us and now I use it to brand in my work.
The overall goal of my multimedia photography and video work is to redefine the perception of how “Native Americans/American Indians” are seen today. I want to reboot the narrative we have been taught about “Indians” in films and the education system. As a Navajo woman living in Los Angeles, I experienced firsthand the social impact of the negative, inaccurate and insulting images of stereotyped American Indians STILL seen in film, television and sporting events. My passion is to counteract those racist, demeaning stereotypes with dignified images. My photography imbues NDNZ living today, we are many nations with many stories, these are authentic portraits and stories of the persistence of NDN life in a contemporary context.
As a storyteller, my photographic narratives illustrate real stories, with the beauty and complexity thriving in urban communities. This is my visual sovereignty seen through my Indigenous eyes. I am currently developing a short documentary about Indian Alley, a site within the downtown LosAngeles skid row district critical to the American Indians migration story. Here the focus of this project is to focus on the Native American artists that have commemorated the site with murals shedding light on this neglected aspect of Los Angeles history, using different forms of media. I hope to amplify their voices in depicting this history that has long been silenced in Los Angeles. I am also working on my next video poem entitled “Welcome to Tongvaland.”
My photography has been featured at the Los Angeles Center of Photography, Arts District Los Angeles Photo Collective, These Days Gallery, Venice Arts Gallery, Triton Museum of Art and in 2020 at the Getty Museum. My work has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Reuters News, Cowboys & Indians Magazine, Native Max Magazine, Los Angeles Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Indian Country Today, Real Indians and American Indian Quarterly Journal and many more. I continues to speak about my multimedia work in many Universities, public outlets and tribal reservations and now via zoom events. I am open to invitiation to speak about my work and more.