Black Hills is a series that documents Diné (Navajo) artist Evan Benally Atwood’s journey to an isolated mountain range in Western South Dakota and Wyoming that are the ancestral lands of the Cheyenne, Mnicoujou, and Očeti Šakówin. Benally Atwood’s practice is one of personal introspection documenting interactions in places of Indigenous importance. In Black Hills, the images highlight and celebrate the remaining untouched landscapes of this territory where the trail traffic, catered to tourism, disregards its original inhabitants.
The Black Hills are a sacred site with a tempestuous history of control passing between various Indigenous nations before being taken by the United States in 1876. In 1980, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled the land was illegally taken. Financial remuneration was offered but was refused as the land would not be given back to the Indigenous people from whom it was taken. To this day, a vast majority of the land comprising the Black Hills region has not been returned to its ancestral Indigenous caretakers.
For this series, Benally Atwood used a 35mm rangefinder camera to offer a panoramic view, as in the self-portrait Cowgirl At Heart, establishing a filmic quality and subverting the canonical history of Indigenous representation in American Western films. Benally Atwood takes this visual trope and reframes it through the optic of being a queer Indigenous person on those trails in present day. Through this act, Black Hills serves as documentation of Benally Atwood walking in harmony with the land and honouring these spaces that have been stolen.
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