Sarah Sense is a true mixer of media, combining contemporary photography and crafts to produce hybrid works that borrow from both Native American iconographic vocabulary and the landscape genre. Sense, whose ancestors are Chitimacha (Louisiana) and Choctaw (Oklahoma), revives weaving techniques traditionally associated with the making of Chitimacha baskets, integrating their decorative quality with a photographic aestheticism that evokes the romantic vision of the Hudson River School landscape painters.
Inseparable from Native American nations and steeped in animist beliefs in symbiosis with nature, landscape is an integral part of Indigenous culture and one of the recurrent themes in Sense’s production. Through the series Weaving the Americas (2011) and Weaving Water (2013), created following a trip across the Americas, the artist was already highlighting the relationship between Native peoples and the territory, landscape being closely linked to the notion of identity. These two concepts are featured in the series Choctaw Irish Relation (2015), which interweaves the essence of the bayous — those marshy stretches of Louisiana once inhabited by the Choctaw people (bayou meaning “little river” in Choctaw) — and the bucolic Irish landscapes in which she now lives. Transcribing onto the photographs the autobiographical narrative bequeathed by her Choctaw grandmother, Sense retraces the life of her forebear, an homage to her Native American origins combined with the present. Though fragmented, the writings memorialize a unique event that took place in the 1840s. As the Great Famine was ending in Ireland and less than twenty years after they had been deported via the Trail of Tears, the Choctaw community apparently collected $20,000 intended to assist Irish families. It was a solidarity that transcended borders, of which the artist still perceives effects today in her adoptive country.
Without being explicitly political, Sense’s work allows us to rediscover not only a vernacular art acculturated by European and American colonialism, but also an interweaving of contemporaneity and folklore. Far from making reading of the work sibylline, by remaining quite minimalist the overlapping of multiple narratives encourages a plural and present-day conception of Native American life and art practices.
[Translated from the French by Käthe Roth]