Jeremy Dennis ON USING CINEMA’S TOOLS TO REDIRECT CURIOSITY, a micro-interview with Elaine Sexton.
Elaine Sexton: I’m struck by the tension you create in your depiction of women and girls of your tribe, the Shinnecock Indian Nation, in using models as stand-ins and staging scenes to create a kind of Hollywood glamour to call attention to the disturbed earth and that of your ancestral remains. You have described the use of the cinema’s tools, “the same ones directors have always turned against us,” to create a kind of mythology and majesty of your own making. Would you tell us a bit more about your approach?
Jeremy Dennis: More often than not, people get their first impressions of Native American people from movies and TV depictions. These images stick so well because of how beautiful they are done and because of how used-to we are to these mediums. As an artist, I am interested in using these methods to turn public attention away from stereotypical, two
dimensional, depictions of Native and redirect that curiosity towards our contemporary issues that we face. All of my work uses artificial lighting, just like Hollywood, all for the purpose of creating one still image. The poses are directed, and much editing goes into post-production.
On the surface, the images are beautiful to look at. Viewers want to learn more about the images from there, and I always accompany the images with the context and influence behind each work. This work in particular speaks to the ongoing desecration of my ancestors in the Shinnecock Hills in Southampton, New York.
NOTE: All artwork is “Untitled” (2019) from The Sacredness of Hills Project; Archival Inkjet Print, 30 x 40 inches
Jeremy Dennis (b. 1990) is a contemporary fine art photographer and a tribal member of the Shinnecock Indian Nation in Southampton, NY. In his work, he explores indigenous identity, culture, and assimilation. Dennis received the Creative Bursar Award from Getty Images in 2018 to continue his series Stories. He was one of 10 recipients of a 2016 Dreamstarter Grant from the national non-profit organization Running Strong for American Indian Youth. His group and solo exhibitions, include: Stories—Dreams, Myths, and Experiences, for The Parrish Art Museum’s Road Show (2018), Stories, From Where We Came, The Department of Art Gallery, Stony Brook University (2018); Trees Also Speak, Amelie A. Wallace Gallery, SUNY College at Old Westbury, NY (2018); Nothing Happened Here, Flecker Gallery at Suffolk County Community College, Selden, NY (2018); Pauppukkeewis, Zoller Gallery, State College, PA (2016); and Dreams, Tabler Gallery, Stony Brook, NY (2012). He has been awarded numerous residencies, among them: Yaddo (2019), Byrdcliffe Artist Colony (2017), North Mountain Residency, Shanghai, WV (2018), MDOC Storytellers’ Institute, Saratoga Springs, NY (2018), Watermill Center, Watermill, NY (2017) and the Vermont Studio Center hosted by the Harpo Foundation (2016). Dennis holds an MFA from Pennsylvania State University, State College, PA, and a BA in Studio Art from Stony Brook University, NY. He currently lives and works in Southampton, New York on the Shinnecock Indian Reservation. https://www.jeremynative.com/