What Survivance Means for Indigenous Artists

Cara Romero (Chemehuevi, b. 1977), “Water Memory” (2015), inkjet print, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas (© Cara Romero. All rights reserved)

DENVER — It is remarkable that experiencing an exhibition composed entirely of contemporary Indigenous art would be remarkable in 2023, but the fact is that these shows are just beginning to happen at major American museums. Speaking with Light: Contemporary Indigenous Photography, on view at the Denver Art Museum through May 22, is a rare traveling exhibition of Indigenous artists, conceived and staged at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas, before its current venue. Co-curated by John Rohrbach of the Amon Carter and Diné artist Will Wilson, the show is divided into three distinct conceptual sections (along with a prologue): Survivance, Nation, and Indigenous Visualities. Each part examines what it means to be an Indigenous artist working today.

The notion of audience is palpable here, especially in the first section, Survivance, which includes work by nearly half of the exhibit’s roster. Survivance is a concept first articulated in an Indigenous sense by Gerald Vizenor, an Anishinaabe scholar who understood the term to mean a continuance of native stories that share the qualities of renunciations of dominance, tragedy, and victimry.

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