You Don’t Look Native To Me

“You don‘t look Native to me” shows excerpts from the lives of young Native Americans from around Pembroke, Robeson County, North Carolina, where 89% of the city’s population identifies as Native American. The town is the tribal seat of the Lumbee Indian Tribe of North Carolina, the largest state recognized Native American tribe east of the Mississippi River. Unlike many other Native American tribes, the people of Robeson County were never forced to move; however, they are federally unrecognised and therefore have no reservation nor any monetary benefits. They have formed a strong bond with their location, locally referred to as ‘the swamp’.

As an ‘outsider’ I am interested in forms of self-representation, transformed through history, questions of identity (with which they are confronted on a daily basis), and their reawakening pride in being Native. I am particularly interested in youth, as a period in which one begins the conscious and unconscious path to self-definition. The work consists of portraits, combined with landscapes and places, interiors, still lives, and the everyday.

My work engages a mix of concepts: a Native American tribe who do not necessarily ‘wear’ their otherness, but who are firm in their identity. Through photography, video and interviews, I am investigating what happens when social and institutional structures breakdown and people come to rely on themselves. I hope that this raises questions in the viewer regarding one’s own identity and sense of the ‘other’.

Maria Sturm

Maria Sturm was born in 1985 in Ploiesti, Romania and has lived in Germany since 1991. She received her diploma in Photography and Media from University of Applied Sciences Bielefeld in 2012. Maria has won several prizes including the New York Photo Award 2012 and the DOCfeld Dummy Award Barcelona 2015 with the work “Be Good”.

Sturm met the visual artist Cemre Yeşil during a month-long residency at Atelier de Visu Marseille and workshop with Antoine d’Agata in 2012. Their exchange led them to a collaboration in 2014; “For Birds’ Sake” is a body of work about the ‘Birdmen’ of Istanbul. This work was published as a photobook by La Fabrica Madrid and featured in Colors Magazine, The Guardian, British Journal of Photography and ZEITmagazin among others. It was exhibited widely, including the Organ Vida International Photography Festival Zagreb, Format Festival Derby, Daire Gallery, Sol Kofer Providence, La Fabrica Madrid, Pavlov’s Dog Berlin, Deichtorhallen Hamburg. “For Birds’ Sake” was a finalist at PHE OjodePez Award for Human Values 2015 and Renaissance Photography Prize 2017 and nominated for Lead Awards 2016 and Henri-Nannen-Preis 2016. It was also shortlisted at Arles Author Book Award 2016 and Prix Levallois 2017.

Next to working on personal projects and commissions Maria also worked as a freelance producer for Vice Germany in 2015. She just graduated with an MFA in Photography from Rhode Island School of Design and therefore received a Fulbright and a DAAD scholarship. For her thesis work “You don’t look Native to me” Maria received a GS grant in 2016, the SPE Student Award for Innovations in Imaging 2017 and a nomination as best photo series for Vonovia Award für Fotografe. The work was exhibited in the German Consulate New York, Rhode Island Convention Centre Providence, Clamp Art in New York, Das Kleine Schwarze in Hamburg, Wiesbadener Fototage 2017 and Encontros da Imagem 2017. Maria received a GS Grant in 2017 for a new collaboration with Cemre Yeşil entitled “Retba”.