In the warm-toned black-and-white photo taken in 2007, two Ovazemba teenage girls from the African nation Namibia pose for the camera. One bare-breasted teen dons a necklace with a toy cellphone attached and the other wears a brassiere top. Both wear African print skirts and traditional beaded jewelry.
This collision of traditional and contemporary cultures is the thematic foundation for an international traveling exhibition by renowned photographer Dana Gluckstein.
Dignity: Tribes in Transition is on display at the Dunedin Fine Art Center through Oct. 16.
"It's an important exhibit," said art center curator Catherine Bergmann, noting that it will be viewed by adults as well as by many children on field trips. "This is one of those times when art takes on the role of teacher, healer and communicator."
The collection of more than 50 portraits was taken over a 30-year period of time, as Gluckstein and her constant companion, a 1981 Hasselblad film camera, captured images of indigenous peoples from across the globe. While most are dressed in ceremonial or traditional garb, a few wear more modern looks.
Some combine both such as a Goba boy in native dress wearing cargo shorts and track shoes. A Herero man looks like he stepped out of a 1950s jazz club. A Namibian woman appears straight out of the Victorian era.
The photos are striking for their rich detail, simple backgrounds and use of natural sunlight to illuminate not only faces, but inner souls. It's an exhibition that has far-reaching effects beyond traditional artistry.
The project began with a visit to Haiti in 1983, sort of a side trip after Gluckstein finished a commercial shoot in Puerto Rico. It was there she made the portrait, "Woman with Pipe," a dramatic portrayal that would set the tone for this body of work and her creative activism.
"The 'ancient ones' tell us where we have come from and where we must go as a world community," she writes in her statement. "Humanity's survival depends on how carefully we listen."
The portrait is part of this exhibition and also serves as the cover photo for Gluckstein's 2010 companion book, Dignity, a coffee table piece featuring more than 90 black-and-white duotone photographs "in honor of the rights of indigenous peoples."
The $39.95 book is for sale at the art center and was printed in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Amnesty International, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning human rights organization. The book includes a foreword by Archbishop Desmond Tutu as well as the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Currently, Gluckstein is working with Amnesty International USA on a campaign to end sexual crimes and discrimination against Native American women.
She has photographed world leaders like Nelson Mandela, Mikhail Gorbachev, Desmond Tutu and Muhammad Ali and has shot advertising campaigns for Apple and Toyota.
But it was her travels to the peripheral corners of the earth that helped her find her voice as an ally for these indigenous peoples, many involved in fights for their lands, their resources, their languages, their cultures and their dignity.
Whether it's a Hawaiian chanter with tears streaming down her face, a Peruvian healer hanging on to ancient customs, or a young Bhutan boy posing with a toy gun at a religious festival (apparently influenced by Hollywood films), Gluckstein remains squarely focused on the plight — and importance — of her subjects.
"This is a very timely topic," said Bergmann. "More than any other moment in recent history, we need to transform the climate of violence, hatred and divisiveness and come together with compassion and respect."