Professor of English Caroline Woidat presented “Words and/as Image: Leslie Marmon Silko, Laguna Pueblo Writer and Visual Artist” as an exhibition lecture program on Thursday Oct. 1. Her lecture was in conjunction with Brodie Hall’s Lederer Gallery exhibit “Beaded Birds and Beast: Selected Iroquois Beadwork” which commemorates the craft of Iroquois beadwork.
Woidat began her presentation by giving audience members insight on Silko’s work, which uniquely combines both images and writing to create a greater effect.
Woidat explained that Silko’s work revolves around the Laguna Pueblo people of what is now the Southwestern United States, venturing off of the Northeastern Iroquois works on display in the Lederer Gallery. “[Silko] experiments with word and image in her work and she challenges us to think of the relationship between the two in Western and Native American tradition,” she said. As a person of mixed heritage—including Native American, Mexican and Caucasian ancestry—Silko describes the relationships between her cultures in her writing.
“She’s celebratory of her mixed heritage,” Woidat said. “In Almanac of the Dead, she creates many Mexican characters who play a big role in survival.”
Silko’s experimentation with both image and written work stems from her father Lee Marmon—a distinguished photographer and writer known for his black and white portraits of his tribal elders. One of his most famous works includes “White Man’s Moccasins,” in which a tribal elder is wearing Converse sneakers. “There’s a larger tradition in Native American authors who incorporate pictorial work in their traditions,” Woidat said.
Silko fell in love with photography when she was a little girl. The Pueblo Imagination—a book created by her father—showcases a photographic collection of these elders and the tradition of the Laguna Pueblo people. “Although Marmon’s works might have comparisons to other white artists like George Chaplin, his signature photograph shows an intimacy with his subjects that challenge the formality of that relationship,” Woidat said.
Woidat then began to speak about Silko’s own books including Ceremony, Storyteller, and Almanac of the Dead and Laguna Woman. For her work, she was inducted as a member of the MacArthur Fellows program in 1981. “Storytelling plays an important role in Native American tradition,” Woidat said. She added that Silko herself said, “[Stories] tell us who we are and how to survive. If we don’t have stories, we don’t have anything.”
In Silko’s photography and writing, she aims to capture cultural and evolutionary change raw. “These photos are to be preserved as relics of the best,” Woidat said.
One of the major topics Silko tackles in her works is the relationship between human connection and the physical elements of the earth. Woidat described the connections Silko has with the landscape of Southwestern U.S. from Silko’s memoir The Turquoise Ledge.
“Silko’s work challenges us to engage in purposeful use of words and images in ways that combat the disconnection in human beings from the physical world,” she said.