Bik’eh Hozho: Queer Politics and Diné Identity in Photographs by Jolene Nenibah Yazzie

Louise Siddons

Palavras-chave: Navajo; queer; LGBT; decolonisation; photography

Participação: presencial

In 2019, Diné (Navajo) artist and photojournalist Jolene Nenibah Yazzie began a series of photographic portraits of queer Diné women, nonbinary people, and their families. The portrait sessions included informal interviews that range widely, giving unprecedented shape to woman- identified queer Indigeneity, focused in the Navajo Nation. Over the past ten years, queer Diné activists and artists have increasingly questioned the effects of Euro-American colonialism on concepts of gender and sexuality. Yazzie observes that successive generations of colonization enforced heteronormative and patriarchal ideologies in Navajo communities, disrupting traditional gender systems and spheres of activity and influence. Christian and Mormon missionaries condemned non-conforming behavior for centuries; in the twentieth century, white anthropologists tended to oversimplify non-binary Diné identities, further muffling traditional expressions of gender diversity. The first ever tribally-supported Diné Pride event, Diyin ‘Adaosiskéés, was held in 2018, in the context of alliances and allegiances between global, post-Stonewall LGBTQ2SIA movements and twenty-first-century conversations about Indigenous, and specifically Diné, gender and sexuality beyond the colonial binary. Post-Stonewall queer politics offered Yazzie a safe space to conceive of her identity outside Diné epistemology—“I’m only just now becoming comfortable with being ‘out’ as a lesbian,” she told an interviewer a decade ago—but “lesbian” ultimately felt inaccurate in comparison to the Diné gender category, dilbaa. In this paper, I suggest some of the ways in which Yazzie’s photographs render visible her discovery of identity in community via the tensions and triumphs she shares with her subjects.


Louise Siddons is a Visiting Researcher at the University of Sussex Humanities Lab (UK) and Professor of Art History at Oklahoma State University (USA). Starting in September 2022, she will be Professor of Visual Politics and Head of the Department of Art and Media Technology at the University of Southampton’s Winchester School of Art (UK). Her research focuses on visual resistance to structures of marginalization in modernity, and has covered topics from the eighteenth century to the present. Her first book, Centering Modernism (2018, University of Oklahoma Press), was about the coastalization of the postwar American art world. She recently completed a manuscript about photographer Laura Gilpin that examines the intersection of lesbian and Navajo sovereignty politics at mid-century (forthcoming from the University of Minnesota Press), supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the US-UK Fulbright Commission.