Destabilizing the archive: Steven Yazzie, Lorna Simpson and the counter-archive

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This thesis explores the ways two contemporary artists engage the archive to challenge ideas calcified through visual culture. Steven Yazzie and Lorna Simpson respond to constructions of history through art

This thesis explores the ways two contemporary artists engage the archive to challenge ideas calcified through visual culture. Steven Yazzie and Lorna Simpson respond to constructions of history through art making strategies and practices. Yazzie's photogravure Tsosido Sweep Dancer (2009) presents a carefully constructed image of a ceremony drawing on symbols of Indianness to provoke a critical dialogue that questions the role of the American Indian stereotype in the United States imaginary. Simpson's Counting (1991) is a multilayered work that juxtaposes text and image to address the capriciousness of memory, power and other issues found at the intersection of race and gender. These photography-based works draw on the histories of ethnographic and criminal photography to deconstruct the same knowledge that photography helped to construct. Throughout the thesis I examine the relationship of the photographic archive to colonial histories by considering whose history is represented through photography. These thoughtful and challenging artworks contribute to a growing body of work that proposes new narratives drawing on embodied knowledge and experience to create a counter-archive.