In 2011, Maria Sturm began to photograph the lives of young people from the Lumbee Tribe around Pembroke, Robeson County, North Carolina. Through the process of documenting their lives, Sturm began to question her own understanding of what it means to be Native American*. Her new book You Don’t Look Native to Me combines photographs with interviews and texts preconceptions and show Native identity not as fixed, but evolving and redefining itself with each generation.
Pembroke is the tribal seat of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, the largest state-recognised tribe east of the Mississippi River. Although the Lumbee Tribe is state recognised, they are federally unrecognised and do not have a reservation nor receive financial benefits from the federal government. The Lumbee name was voted for in 1952 to unite all tribes in the area in an attempt to gain federal recognition. Their tribal status remains one of the most debated in the United States.
Sturm’s photographs, on first glance, appear to depict the daily life of an archetypal American community. On closer inspection elements of hybridity between heritage and contemporary life are revealed—a street named ‘Dreamcatcher Drive’, a ‘Native Pride’ baseball cap with feather, Halloween fangs on a Tuscarora child in regalia—in the town where nearly 90% of the population identify as Native. The protagonists of Sturm’s photographs present themselves as individuals with their own unique identity and shared culture. The presence of Native symbolism—on street signs, pictures on walls, on cars, on shirts and as tattoos—shows how a stereotypical image is often presented back to them. The book’s title You Don’t Look Native to Me is borrowed from a quote familiar to many residents of Robeson County and encapsulates the discrepancy between their identity and the preconceptions of others.
“My work engages an unfamiliar mix of concepts: a 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…. 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. I hope to raise questions to the viewer regarding their own identity and membership to the unspecified mainstream.” – Maria Sturm
Maria Sturm (born 1985, Romania) studied photography at the University of Applied Sciences Bielefeld, Germany and at the Rhode Island School of Design as a Fulbright and DAAD scholar. Her work has been published in the New York Times, the Guardian, The Atlantic, der Spiegel and Zeit Magazin amongst others.
“You don’t look Native to me” was awarded the PHmuseum Women Photographers Grant, Center Santa Fe Directors Choice Award, the Royal Photographic Society Award and the Daylight Photo Award. It has been widely exhibited e.g., at Aperture Foundation, Addis Foto Fest, Artists Unlimited, Bronx Documentary Center, Format Festival and Encontros da Imagem. Her previous book For Birds’ Sake was a collaboration with artist Cemre Yeşil.
Maria Sturm : You Don’t Look Native to Me
22 x 29 cm