On: Going Native

I recently had what one might call a “cognitive dissonance” moment. Or perhaps it is better and more accurate to call it “moral squeamishness.” I was on a week-long sojourn through Northern New Mexico. In the beginning was an exhibit on contemporary Native Art, and in the end, several visits to pueblos. The exhibit was fine indeed; well-executed, timely, political, witty, and often angry. It was provocative. Inspired by that work, I visited some of the pueblos to film and to photograph the descendants of Native Americans catholicised and colonised by the Spaniards in the 17th century. Now photography is generally not permitted within. If it had been permitted, I could not have done it. For the first time filmmaking was invasive. I felt that it would be disrespectful, as though filming were an act of recording their performance of being (native). Of course there was no performance there; just a man carving a bench, sisters by the river having lunch, a group of men painstakingly plastering wet mud on the walls of an adobe church. I felt that the act of filming would reduce the privacy of their daily life into a performance, a show. I know too well what performing the other feels like.

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