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March 18, 2011

Humanities Project explores role of historic Native American images

old painting of American Indians in a canoe
Anthropologist Aaron Glass from Bard Graduate Center will discuss the recent restoration of the Edward S. Curtis silent film In the  Land of the Head Hunters (1914) at 4 p.m. on Monday, March 28, in the Welles-Brown Room, Rush Rhees Library. The presentation will feature clips from the newly restored film and recent performances that include the original musical score.

“You either have people looking uncritically at photographs taken of Native Americans in their traditional clothing that buy into ‘Oh, look at these natives, too bad they don’t look like that anymore,’ or you have people saying ‘this was a staged photo and a fraud,’” says Janet Berlo, a professor of art history and visual cultural studies, whose research focuses on Native North American studies.

Berlo, along with Eleana Kim, an assistant professor of anthropology, are the organizers of “Parallax Effects: Representations of Native North Americans Then and Now,” a series of events in March that encourages the Rochester community to reexamine the role of Native North Americans beyond the traditional stereotypes.

Through lectures, presentations, and films at the University and George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film, Berlo and Kim hope to create a conversation that will help explore the meaning of historical images of Native American. Coined by anthropologist Faye Ginsburg (NYU), the term parallax effects refers to the numerous ways culture can be represented from different points of view. “We hope to show how people from different historical periods and cultural contexts interpret these images in different ways. It’s not as if there is just one version of culture, so we need to include every perspective in the discussion,” Kim says.

Highlights of Parallax Effects:

Theatres of Memory: New  Perspectives on Edward Curtis’s The North American Indian

The art exhibition runs through
April 6 in the Rare Books and
Special Collections Library, Rush
Rhees Library.

New Directions in Aboriginal

Canadian Experimental Video

March 24, 4 p.m., Gamble Room, Rush Rhees Library.

Led by anthropologist Kristin
Dowell ’99, the talk will provide
an opportunity to see several
short films by filmmakers Kevin
Burton and Helen Haig-Brown,
rising stars in Aboriginal media in Canada whose work is breaking new cinematic ground. A Q&A session and reception will follow.

In the Land of the Head Hunters: The Cinema of Edward Curtis as a Document of Cultural Encounter

March 28, 4 p.m., Welles-Brown
Room, Rush Rhees Library.

Anthropologist Aaron Glass will discuss the recent restoration of
Curtis’s silent film In the  Land of the Head Hunters (1914).

The presentation will feature clips from the newly restored film and recent performances that include the original musical score. A Q&A
session and reception will follow.

Auto Immune Response

April 10, 2 p.m., Curtis Theatre, George Eastman House.

Navajo photographer Will Wilson will present an artist’s talk about his series of artworks entitled Auto Immune Response. The talk will be followed by a Q&A

The event is free for University faculty and staff, Friends of Ganondagan, and  members of George Eastman House. For the
general public, it is free with museum admission ($12 for
adults, $5 for students).

According to Berlo, Europeans have written and produced images about Native Americans and their cultures, but until recently the Native American perspective has been largely left out of the conversation. Berlo and Kim point to photographer Edward Curtis as the inspiration for the project. Over the years, the American photographer has been praised for his portraits of Native Americans in the early 20th century as well as criticized for reinforcing stereotypes of the time. By using Curtis as a point of reference, the project will look at both historical representations as well as to more contemporary representations by Native Americans now presenting themselves to the world.

Sponsored by the University’s Humanities Project, an interdepartmental endeavor designed to support work by Rochester faculty in all fields of humanistic inquiry, the project runs through April 10. Many of the events are free and open to the public. For details, visit or e-mail Carlie Fishgold at

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