Photography by Maria Sturm

Maria Sturm – Lensing the Effects of Modernity on the youth of the Lumbee Tribe

Maria is a Romanian artist currently residing in Germany. She completed her MFA in Photography at Rode Island School of Design in 2017, she is also a recipient of a Fulbright and DAAD scholarship. In 2011, she began photographing her documentary series, ‘You Don’t Look Native to Me’ by lensing the youth of the Lumbee tribe situated in and around Pembroke, North Carolina. Here, nearly 90 percent of the region’s inhabitants identify as Native American. The Lumbee were not involuntarily removed from their land during colonial expansion as other native tribes were at the time; they have as a result been able to keep a strong bond with their land.

Her series explores the way in which Native teenagers express themselves in our modern world with a particular focus on culture and identity. When first seen, her imagery has the appearance of depicting everyday life in nearly any community in the U.S, containing hybrid features such as plastic Halloween fangs on a young girl in Tuscarora regalia, a school portrait on a living room wall, dreamcatchers. All these elements point to the mingling of personal heritage and “modern”/westernised cultural norms.

“I am tracing their ways 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, because it is the period in which one begins the conscious and unconscious path to self-definition. The work consists of portraits, along with landscapes and places, interiors, still lifes, and situations. The aesthetic framework that is presented offers clues – sometimes subtle, sometimes loud – for imparting a feeling for their everyday lives.

My work engages an unfamiliar mix of concepts: a Native American tribe whose members are ignored by the outside world, who do not wear their otherness on their physique, but who are firm in their identity. I am focusing on an unusual and somewhat paradoxical kind of otherness, one which is not immediately apparent, even though they define themselves in this way. Through photography, video and interviews, I am investigating what happens when social and institutional structures break down and people are forced to rely on themselves for their own resources. This raises questions to the viewer regarding one’s own identity and membership to the unspecified mainstream.”

To keep up with Maria’s work visit her website.


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