The photography exhibition "For a Love of His People: The Photography of Horace Poolaw" is now on display at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian in New York, and a New York Times reviewer is calling it "an instant candidate for the long-term memory bank."
The images document Natives in Oklahoma from the early 1920s through the late 1960s—a period that found American Indians wrestling with the concept of assimilation. Native American servicemen wearing feather headdresses with their uniforms, Indian beauty pageant winners in traditional dress riding on the hood of a Chevrolet in a parade—these juxtapositions demonstrate what critic Holland Cotter calls "the merging of worlds, at a grass-roots level."
In his review, Cotter fondly recalls a 2001 exhibition at NMAI entitled "Spirit Capture," as one of the best he's ever seen in New York; this collection of Poolaw's pictures "expand[s] and deepen[s]" the perspective offered in that earlier show.
"It’s been said that America itself will never be at rest, socially or spiritually, until it has fully acknowledged and begun to repair the damage done to its first people, including damage inflicted through image-making," Cotter writes, alluding to the harmful stereotypes engendered by Hollywood movies and the photographs of Edward S. Curtis (and others). Cotter sees Poolaw's pictures as an antidote to stereotyping, and a harbinger of the explosion of contemporary American Indian art. "Mr. Poolaw’s work, and the work of the artists who have succeeded him, clearly show that Native Americans are not waiting around ... They’re shaping their own restorative images of both Native and American, doing for America what America cannot, or will not, do for itself."
"For a Love of His People: The Photography of Horace Poolaw" runs at the NMAI in New York through February 15. For more information, visit the exhibit's page at nmai.si.edu.