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Exhibit celebrates Isleta Pueblo’s history

Dick Garcia, left, and Vera Lente were some of the first visitors to explore the “Time Exposures” exhibit during its grand opening on Sept. 19. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

The history and culture of Isleta Pueblo captured through the lens of a camera is the focus of “Time Exposures.”

“There are several themes in the exhibit that we used,” said Henry Walt, tribal historic preservation officer at Isleta. “The photographs help tell that story.”

The first part, he said, is about events such as the opening of the ditch, growing crops and hunting, and ritual events that occur around those activities.

“Sort of what happens every year at Isleta and has been happening for hundreds of years,” he said. “The ceremonies and events and a lot of the things that once happened still happen at Isleta. It’s what Isleta is all about.”

The second theme of the exhibit features photographs, many of them from the 19th century, which center around Isleta trying to retain its land.

“There were Spanish grants and there were tracts of land that belonged to Isleta for a long time,” Walt said. “Just sort of the fight to keep all that was something that was happening back then and the schools … Carlisle school was the first in a number of Indian schools and I think it started in 1879 or something like that. Those events had profound affects on the pueblo … We’re trying to portray (that) with the photographs that we have. In a sense the second half of the exhibit has to do with disrupting events and attempts to sort of retain a way of life they have always had.”

The third part of the exhibit has a more obscure theme. It includes a little array of 30 women with pots on their heads, which was a favorite theme of visitors who came to Isleta to capture the exotic nature of the pueblo.

“People who came to photograph the pueblo back then, many of them were men that got off the train in Albuquerque, came down to Isleta and tried to get some sort of exotic scenes of Isleta to sell as post cards and things like that,” Walt said. “This was in the late 19th and early 20th century so in some sense the themes of our photographs we have were restricted by the interest of them. People that came here knew nothing about Isleta at all, took a few shots and off they went.”

Isleta Gov. J. Robert Benavides said he is glad that the exhibit arrived for Isleta Casino’s 32nd anniversary.

“It is really good for the preservation of Isleta’s history and our culture,” Benavides said. “I think it’s bringing back a lot of memories for one. For myself growing up in the early ’50s, I was fortunate enough to live that type of life. It’s going to be interesting for people and being able to see how Isleta was and how we lived at one time and proves we’ve been here for some time.”

“Time Exposures” was built as a traveling exhibit. It has been on the road for nine years and has been shown in smaller museums and prominent museums including the National Museum of American Indian in New York City and the Heard Museum in Phoenix. Walt worked with the Isleta Land Plan committee to apply for a National Endowment for Humanities grant and was awarded three NEH grants.

“To have an exhibit about Isleta Pueblo and its history told by the people of Isleta themselves that’s just kind of the thought that began all of this,” Walt said. “Then we got these nice grants and we actually had quite a lot of time. I worked with a committee of elders and what once had been the Land Plan committee sharing the land plan years and worked with them on this exhibit. We selected, I don’t know, something like 2,500 photographs from a number of archives … What we wanted to do basically, besides just having historic photographs used, we wanted them to tell a story.”

The exhibit is important for Isleta’s younger generation to learn about Isleta’s past and preserve its culture.

“We hold onto our customs and traditions and so that is important for us,” Benavides said. “It makes us who we are … Hopefully it will continue to be important to the younger generation who will learn through conversations. We don’t have a written story so we rely on verbal history.”

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