Jelisa Lyn Peterson
I have found in living and traveling, both in Africa and Latin America, that western culture is encroaching and swallowing the traditions of native peoples. As a photographer, I seek the beauty and uniqueness of people who are not often shown the respect and distinction they warrant. These are cultures rapidly disappearing. In a variety of ways, many westerners do not understand the impact of post-colonization, enormous multi-national corporations, and the westernization of indigenous peoples. I notice this particularly in the United States where the culture seems to be so self satisfied as to not even require the study of foreign languages, world history, and world geography as part of productive and meaningful secondary education. For some, my images are something unfamiliar to their eyes and for their minds to assimilate. High birth rates, combined with high mortality rates, disease, HIV/AIDS, malnutrition, and poverty provide statistical data, which then seems to be combined to form a false image of those cultures for many.
As a thinking and sensitive person, I feel it necessary to challenge these assumptions and to demonstrate visually that the “facts” we see in the media do not constitute the only legitimate realities. Unfortunately, the horrors, traumas, and destabilizations of countries and cultures have come to define what many recognize as Africa. However, joy, fun, humanity, racial, religious and cultural acceptance, bonded families, intimate friends, conscious living, and creativity are prominent aspects of Mozambican cultures. I try to emphasize these exemplary factors, rather than exploiting the sensational. I create and present my work in an honest, artistic manner and attempt to preserve, highlight, and expose the actualities of those who have been ignored and/or forgotten by many. My hope is that the images will engage the audience to become more active in understanding and to take a personal interest in devaluing the systems of global exploitation that deeply threaten the lives and ways of indigenous peoples, like the Mozambicans. As both an artistic and functional medium, photography gives me the opportunity to share the humanity I see in native peoples and their cultures. To preserve the Mozambican experience, I will continue to give voice to the indigenous through my vision as a photographer.
“Remember us after we have gone. Don’t forget us. Conjure up our faces and our words. Our image will be as dew in the hearts of those who want to remember us.” – Popol Vuh, Antiquas Leyendas del Quiche, 1977
Jelisa Lyn Peterson earned her BS from the University of Utah where she studied Anthropology and Women’s studies. She has traveled to the far corners of the world, much of the time alone, in search of cultural understanding and appreciation that she can embrace, photograph, and share. Her travels to photograph have lead her through Mozambique, Brazil, Bolivia, Mexico, Guatemala, Egypt, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, and Zanzibar and she spent four years living abroad in Argentina and Zimbabwe. She is a certified TEFL teacher, who leads classes on English as a foreign language and has served as a volunteer information Officer for Jekesa Pfungwa, Zimbabwe’s largest indigenous organization for women. Peterson has shown in numerous galleries throughout Utah, California and other states. Her images and articles have been published widely in magazines and journals including Deseret News, Artisans Around the World, Golden Braid, Revolt in Style, and Continuum.