Chemehuevi, b. 1977
Indian Canyon, 2018
Digital chromogenic print, AP 1/3
Collection of the artist
Originally commissioned as monumental billboards for the Desert X art installation in the Coachella Valley, Cara Romero’s photographic series Jackrabbit, Cottontail & Spirits of the Desert features four figures which the artist describes as “time-traveling visitors from Chemehuevi.” These four children represent warriors of memory, fighting to remind us of the importance of connecting with the land and acknowledging the original inhabitants of that portion of the Californian desert: the Chemehuevi, Cahuilla, Mojave and Serrano peoples. The rectangular composition of each photograph references the work’s original format of a billboard. Each photograph features the children in different spaces. In No Wall, the children stand in front of a brick wall with the words “no wall” in graffiti above their heads, referencing Indigenous lands on both sides of the United States–Mexico border. Kiyanni is a singular portrait of a young boy who looks out at the viewer with a piercing gaze. By placing these figures in various locations in the Coachella Valley, Romero negates collective forgetfulness of Indigenous lands and alerts the viewer to the continued presence of California tribes. This series of photographs is about creating visibility for Indigenous peoples globally, and also specifically in the artist’s home territory in and around the Chemehuevi reservation in Southern California.
Cara Romero is a contemporary fine-art photographer raised between contrasting settings: the rural Chemehuevi reservation in Mojave Desert, Calif., and the urban sprawl of Houston, Texas. Romero’s identity informs her photography, a blend of fine art and editorial photography, shaped by years of study and a visceral approach to representing Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultural memory, collective history, and lived experiences from a Native American female perspective. As an undergraduate at the University of Houston, Romero pursued a degree in cultural anthropology. Disillusioned by academic and media portrayals of Native Americans as bygone, Romero realized that making photographs could do more than anthropology did in words, a realization that led to a shift in medium. Since 1998, Romero’s expansive oeuvre has been informed by formal training in film, digital, fine art and commercial photography. By staging theatrical compositions infused with dramatic color, Romero takes on the role of storyteller, using contemporary photography techniques to depict the modernity of Native peoples, illuminating Indigenous worldviews and aspects of supernaturalism in everyday life. Maintaining a studio in Santa Fe, Romero regularly participates in Native American art fairs and panel discussions and was featured in PBS’ Craft in America (2019). Her award-winning work is included in many public and private collections internationally.