Our Knowledge is Power: Photography Exhibit

Pictured Above: Got Water by Dennis Davis. Photo Credit: Contributed. 



Princeton, NJ – The Arts Council of Princeton (ACP) will show Our Knowledge is Power: The Cultures of Beauty and Survival in Isle de Jean Charles, LA and Shishmaref, AK an exhibition of powerful photography. Our Knowledge is Power will be on view in the Arts Council’s Taplin Gallery September 9 through September 30 with an Opening Reception on Saturday, September 9 from 3-5pm.

On Friday, September 22 from 4-7pm, the Arts Council and Princeton University’s High Meadows Environmental Institute will host artists Chantel Comardelle and Dennis Davis in person for an artist talk in ACP’s Taplin Gallery. The evening will include a film screening of Preserving our Place: Our Knowledge is Power, a 13-minute film – directed by Jeremy Lavoi and produced by Chantel Comardelle, Dennis Davis, and Elizabeth Marino – sponsored by NSF award #1929145: Adaptations to Repetitive Flooding: Understanding Cross Cultural and Legal Possibilities for Long Term Flooding Risks.

On Kigiqtamiut Inupiat and Jean Charles Choctaw Nation lands, the earth, the ocean, the rivers, the animals,
and the people are an interconnected system that have survived since time immemorial. Elder knowledge, an
intimate understanding of nature and weather cycles, and traditions of food gathering have allowed Kigiqtamiut and Jean Charles Choctaw Nation people to live through extreme changes on the coast, changes in social life, and the attempted genocide of Indigenous people throughout North America. These two Indigenous communities now stand on the edge of a climate crisis.

However, village life in Shishmaref, in Kigiqtamiut lands, and Isle de Jean Charles is also hard. Shishmaref lacks running water and other basic health infrastructure that most people in the US take for granted. Isle de Jean Charles struggles with frequent instances of water contamination and risk of Naegleria fowleri, which render the water unusable. For both villages, economic opportunities are limited and the struggle to make ends meet is real. Added to these challenges now are flooding and erosion, disasters brought on by relative sea level rise and climate change. Aid to relocate communities and protect lifeways has not been forthcoming and the communities face the real challenge of having homes and land washed away.

Artists Dennis Davis and Chantel Comardelle have partnered to bring us a multimedia exhibit showcasing the
beauty of culture and the price of the climate crisis. The stunning images will introduce you to their communities
and sacred traditions. The voice of elders and stories of seasons past will transport you to a time when life was
less complex. The turbulent and unjust events of climate and environmental crisis will invoke inward reflection
on your future choices.

“We are really excited to share our Tribes’ stories with the Princeton community”, shares Comardelle. “Through
this exhibit, we hope that people learn and develop new perspectives on climate change and frontline communities, because now is the time to act and support us as we preserve our communities before they are
swallowed into the water.”

Hundreds of journalists have photographed and written about life on Isle de Jean Charles and Shishmaref,
Alaska – but none has shown the whole heart of the story. Along with homes falling in the ocean, and roads
covered in water, this exhibit captures the love, warmth, power, knowledge and genius of Indigenous lifeways,
of living with the environment in sustainable relations, while showing simultaneously the struggle of adapting to
a quickly changing environment and a political world that cannot cope with these changes.

“As colonial and climate crises compound, we need to support Indigenous nations and communities and environmental justice struggles through interdisciplinary and community-based participatory work that amplifies the experiences and advances the initiatives of those already navigating the scope of challenges and already advocating for just pathways forward,” shares Nathan Jessee, Postdoctoral Research Associate at Princeton University’s High Meadows Environmental Institute who collaborated on the exhibit and film screening.

Chantel Comardelle has a deep passion for her community and culture. Chantel is a wife and mother of three beautiful children Isaiah, Faith, and Jake. Research and photography have always been passions of Chantel.
Being able to weld the two together in Knowledge is Power and other Tribal projects has been a rewarding experience.

As Tribal Secretary of the Jean Charles Choctaw Nation, she serves the Tribal Council and citizens with vigor. Chantel has served in this role since 2000, acting as a Tribal Representative while simultaneously juggling
Tribal communications, archival and historical research, and grant writing responsibilities. Her current areas of
focus include Federal Recognition, Tribal Resettlement and the Preserving Our Place Movement. These projects allow Chantel to use her professional and organizational skills to advance the Tribal Community. As a
lifelong bayou resident, Chantel seeks to positively impact her community for future environmental, economic, and cultural sustainability.

Education has always been important to our Tribal community. For many years our people were denied an education. Chantel is a first-generation college graduate with a Bachelor of General Studies from Nicholls State University. In 2016, she started the Certificate of Museum Studies from the Institute of American Indian Arts to learn new archival and conservation skills to help the Tribe preserve their culture in light of their current environmental crisis. Chantel is now in her second year as a Master Student at IAIA in Cultural Administration. It is her hope the knowledge gained will help thrust the Tribe through the Federal Recognition process and
finally reach their collective goal of acceptance.

Dennis Davis is a self-taught Inupiat photographer that has been taking pictures and videos of the western coastline of Alaska for over 20 years. He uses an Inupiat vision of the connections between land, animals, and
people to create new forms of photography and video, that offer a glimpse into the subsistence lifestyle. Dennis’ goal is to show others what his culture is all about; to highlight the risks that Arctic people face with the coming of climate change; and to give a voice to his people.

Sponsoring organizations of Our Knowledge is Power include High Meadows Environmental Institute, Program for Community Engaged Scholarship (ProCES), Princeton Department of History, Princeton Department of Anthropology, Princeton Mellon Initiative in Architecture, Urbanism & the Humanities, Fluid Futures Forum,
Environmental Humanities and Social Transformation Colloquium, Lewis Center for the Arts, Native American
and Indigenous Studies Initiative at Princeton, and NSF Grant #1921045: Adaptations to Repetitive Flooding:
Understanding Cross-Cultural and Legal Possibilities for Long-Term Solutions to Flooding Disaster.

Also on view in the Arts Council of Princeton’s Paul Robeson Center for the Arts are A Place Called Flourish, a multidisciplinary solo exhibit by artist Tasha Branham, and Art Quest: Search for Expression, mixed- media collage work created by the students of artist and ACP instructor Donna Payton.

Gallery hours are Mon-Thurs, 9am-5pm; Fri & Sat, 10am-4pm; Sun 9:30am-12:30pm. Free and open to the public. 102 Witherspoon Street, Princeton. For more information, visit artscouncilofprinceton.org.

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