May 17, 2023
Maria Brien uses her community as inspiration for her artwork.
At the end of each semester, the NDSU Department of Visual Arts hosts a baccalaureate exhibition at the NDSU Memorial Union Gallery featuring the work of seniors graduating from their program.
Brien, who graduated this spring with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with an emphasis in photography, photographed members of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, producing large-scale portraits capturing their likeness in the context of their environment for her capstone project.
Her undergraduate academic-career culminating exhibition, titled “The Turtle Mountain: An Exploration of Identity, Part II,” featured six photographic portraits of tribal members. Brien was the first student to receive a solo exhibition.
“The main thing that inspired me when working on this exhibit was sharing the stories of individuals on the Turtle Mountain Reservation while preserving them for future generations, as well as learning more about the people I have grown up around all my life never knowing their whole story,” said Brien, who is from Belcourt, North Dakota, and an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.
Over the past year, Brien captured portraits of artists, musicians, language bearers and story tellers. She photographed them in their homes, studios and workspaces, capturing their environments and individuality.
“When I started this project, my goal was to tell the story of the people photographed in my final pieces,” Brien said. “I hope the final images convey the person’s story to those who view them as well as see how diverse the Turtle Mountain Reservation is and how little is known about its people.”
The first part of the project was on display fall semester of 2022. Brien showcased a limited number of photos and audio snippets of interviews during the exhibition.
With her education from NDSU, Brien said she feels prepared and excited for what’s next.
“NDSU prepared me to be an artist by helping me connect with professionals in the field as well as allowing me to use tools that I might not have had the opportunity to use and learn about on my own,” Brien said. “I was able to learn both traditional and nontraditional methods and was given the freedom to try new things.”
Brien hopes to continue the series and keep capturing portraits of the Turtle Mountain community.
“I am most excited about the door that this project has opened for me to meet new people and the opportunities I have to continue the series,” she said. “I have learned so much about the people in my community and look forward to seeing how many more stories I can preserve.”
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