Mercedes Dorame: Sinews
September 7, 2011–July 1, 2012
I am a Native American from California, the Gabrielino/Tongva tribe. Gabrielino, as named after the San Gabriel Mission and Tongva as a modern attempt to reclaim ownership of the past through renaming.
By using the camera, a tool with a long problematic history to the Native American Community, I am trying to represent my culture without repeating the common tropes of representation: the Vanishing Race, the romanticized portraits, the fragile culture. Since its invention, photography has been in dialogue with the Native community, entangling a cultural identity from the outside and from within. Anthropological photographers invented themselves through the practice of documenting Native Americans to create visual evidence. At first these documents were accepted as true and unbiased but this has clearly unraveled. Despite this unraveling, the Native Community that I experience still draws its identity in part from these images, so that one is inflecting the other. Therefore there is no original, just simulacra. Assimilation, time, Los Angeles, death and shame, all work to remove the original.
I am both viewer and photographer: I am confronted by what I do not know, by my lack of context and by my lack of past and history. In response to this I create my own context. I create photographs using materials, sometimes found, sometimes constructed. Through framing and the use of a tool used to construct my ancestors I show what I see, what I look like, how I define our rituals. All the while knowing that what is truly powerful is what cannot be seen.
A collection of seven, large-format, color photographs.
This body of work explores my cultural ties to Los Angeles. I relive the experience of my Native American grandparents, struggling to fit into a society that wanted to erase them. Desperately trying to belong, they hid their culture and past in up-do’s, uniforms and freshly coated paint. In re-examining their experience, and by extension my own, I find moments when fault lines erupt threatening to expose the gaps existing between the actual and the perceived.
These images seek to rejoin these fissures by regenerating connective tissue. With a small box of personal artifacts from my grandmother, coupled with my own objects, intervention and memory, I piece and patch together a new identity. Cinnamon and ochre interchange. Red yarn constricts and supports as when bundling ceremonial sage. Fact and fiction are woven together unearthing a dialogue of hybridity, assimilation, and isolation.
Mercedes Dorame, born in Los Angeles, California, received her Master of Fine Art degree from the San Francisco Art Institute (2010) and her undergraduate degree from UCLA in American Literature and Culture (2003). The recipient of the MFA Fellowship in Photography and the John Collier Award from the San Francisco Art Institute, she has shown her work nationally.