Dinjii Zhuh: Productive Disruptions, an exhibition by Jeneen Frei Njootli

September 14 – November 28 2014

Exhibition and text by Jeneen Frei Njootli:

Stanley Njootli Sr. argues that Dinjii Zhuh is the most honest name we can call ourselves, as it is the word we used before encountering the label makers of the west, before we were made into a racialized people and absorbed into a larger colonial matrix.

This collection of works are a mutually constituitive gesture of decolonial aesthetics and action which were brought into fruition through a fellowship I recently completed with the Darcy McNickle Centre for American Indian Studies at The Newberry Library in Chicago. Through it, I would like to unpack how labeling/naming/identity relationships have been established for and by the Vuntut Gwitchin nation over the last century and how we are, in turn perceived by different publics. Before researching in the archives at The Newberry, I was aware that there were varied spellings of our nation, but had not realized to what extent these terms/names/labels/ethnographic categories indicate the ways we have been written into history and how the transition from an oral-based culture to a written one has modeled our identity. This collection of images aims to push up against photographer/subject/institution/viewer relationships and fracture the inherent voyeurism of the photograph. For me, this project is a way to find a sense of autonomy within the archive and ethnographic representations of my people. It has been challenging to engage such the images and the publications that house them. This is my attempt to produce something that is honest and avoids self-anthropologizing or further entrenching the fetishification of Indians in the rugged north.

I have chosen not to distinguish which images are my own and which I have found in the archive. The text has been chosen in a similar spirit; using names that we, the Dinjii Zhuh, have chosen for ourselves alongside ones found while marinating in the archive. The words, in some cases, obscure the figures in the photographs, speaking to concepts surrounding access, privilege, language and is an act of reclamation on my part. The images here are part of a shifting project titled Dinjii Zhuh: Productive Disruptions and has taken on the form of a happening, a lecture, a book and now this exhibition.

I invite you to participate in Dinjii Zhuh: Productive Disruptionsshifting iterations by using the caribou antler tool to apply the text, which is written in Gwich’in.

Dzan chi’ lee andaii?   Nizheh lee dinjii zhuh zhii na’aa?  Luh ch’uh valtsai’ lee niidhan?  Nijin kwank’it nitr’igwihee’aa lee troo juugaii goonlii?   …nihthan?  Shintl’ana’aii.   Shizhigwalts’ik.  Gwijiinchii goonlii.   gogoontrii kwaa/gogoontrii   gahshandaii kwaa   sheenjit le’te diinlyaa?  Kwank’it ts’o’nits’oo dee taii tr’agwahtsii?   Nits’oo dee troo ooniinjii?   Shoondee  shiti, ti’yaa   

Jeneen Frei Njootli is a contemporary artist currently based in Vancouver, British Columbia, where she is an MFA candidate in Visual Arts at UBC. Her practice explores the perception of Indigenous people and the complex cultural dynamics that have been brewing since contact with Western culture.

PHOTO: Jeneen Frei Njootli, Dinjii Zhuh: Productive Disruptions (2014) (detail)