18 Jul (NEW!) Project: Portraits of the Lumbee Tribe
Overcoming obstacles of mis-representation & respecting the Sacred
Lumbee Tribe: Portrait of a Nation
The Jimmy Nelson Foundation is excited about the arrival of its newest project “Lumbee Tribe: Portrait of a Nation’. Being part of the foundation’s “Celebrate Culture” call, this photography project revolves around the ceremonies and traditions of the Native American Lumbee Tribe in North Carolina. The New York based photographer Avneet Mangat highlights the symbolic relationship between the Lumbee culture and their environment in his work, for which he started photographing in spring this year.
Avneet especially highlights the tradition of the Powwow Dances in his pictures and stories. “I started the process by visiting culture gatherings such as the powwow – an American Indian social gathering. It was an opportunity to meet people, take their pictures and develop friendships… I was presented a small pouch of tobacco by one of the tribal elders. Tobacco is a traditional token of friendship with the Lumbee tribe.”
What makes Avneet’s project so special, is its purpose to cater to the portrayed Lumbee culture itself. Because of his personal connections with Lumbee community members, Avneet wanted to create a photographic documentation of their traditions for the Lumbee tribe members to own and use themselves. His work is intended as a work of representation and visual empowerment of Lumbee cultural expression in the modern world.
“The Jimmy Nelson Foundation encouraged me to look beyond the appearance and appreciate the deeper meaning behind the regalia, traditions, cultural practices. It’s work was the inspiration for my project ‘Lumbee Tribe: portrait of a Nation’ – Avneet
Avneet did face challenges during his project. In the beginning, many people of the Lumbee tribe feared a mis-use of his photos and of being represented disrespectfully, or superficially, as novelties by the media. The reaction was grounded in the sacredness of some of the regalia, that was to be represented correctly and with sensitivity. “These things made me work harder than expected to gain the Lumbee tribes’ trust”, he remembers.
To overcome these challenges, Avneet decided to be a “good sympathetic listener” and he visited the communities frequently. Avneet visited the Lumbee tribe members at important events such as the Elders Fire Ceremony, where he sat down and listed to them as they told him stories about their history. They also explained to him the significance of objects such as the ‘Talking Stick’, their regalia, and a pouch of tobacco. Understanding significant elements to their culture, helped Avneet to portray the Lumbee people more accurately and with the respect they deserve. He also earned their trust and approval intaking their portraits.
According to Avneet, the project was very well received by the members of the Lumbee Tribe and other American Indians that were involved in the project. “Every single person photographed is using the photos for their social media profile and is proudly sharing the project on social media with their contacts!” Avneet writes us.
The photographic material of Avneet’s project has been made fully available to the members of the Lumbee community itself and is accessible online at www.lumbeeportraits.com.
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