Romanian photographer Maria Sturm (b.1985) first studied photography at the University of Applied Sciences Bielefeld, Germany before completing her MFA in Photography at the Rhode Island School of Design as a Fulbright and DAAD scholar.
Her most recent work “You don't look Native to me” has won the PHmuseum Women Photographers Grant 2018, the Royal Photographic Society Award and the SPE Award for Innovations in Imaging, it was shortlisted for PhotoLondon La Fabrica Book Dummy Award and made the 2nd place at Unseen Dummy Award. It was published in British Journal of Photography and Filmbulletin and exhibited in the German Consulate New York, Clamp Art New York, Wiesbadener Fototage, Encontros da Imagem, at Artists Unlimited Bielefeld, Addis Foto Fest, Photo Vogue Festival and at Aperture Foundation New York among others. It will be next shown at Format Festival and Kunsthaus Rhenania.
Sturm has been published in the BJP, The Guardian, Zeit Magazine, NZZ Folio, der Stern, Wall Street Journal, Paper Journal and Colors Magazine and is working on personal projects, but also as an editorial photographer and educator.
"You Don‘t Look Native to Me" is a quote and the title of a body of work, that shows excerpts from the lives of young Native Americans from around Pembroke, Robeson County, North Carolina, where 89% of the city’s population identifies as Native American. The town is the tribal seat of the Lumbee Indian Tribe of North Carolina, the largest state-recognized Native American tribe east of the Mississippi River, which means they are federally unrecognized and therefore have no reservation nor any monetary benefits. Unlike many other Native American tribes, the people of Robeson County were never forced to move. For this reason, they formed a very strong bond to place, locally referred to as the swamp.
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.