Maria Sturm

Maria Sturm was born in 1985 in Romania and studied photography at the University of Applied Sciences Bielefeld, Germany and the Rhode Island School of Design as a Fulbright and DAAD scholar.

Her work “You don’t look Native to me” has won the PHmuseum Women Photographers Grant, Center Santa Fe Directors Choice Award and the Royal Photographic Society Award. It was shortlisted for PhotoLondon La Fabrica Dummy Award, Kassel Dummy Award and made the 2nd place at Unseen Dummy Award. It was exhibited in the German Consulate New York, Encontros da Imagem, at Artists Unlimited, Addis Foto Fest, Format Festival and at Aperture Foundation.

For Birds’ Sake in collaboration with Cemre Yesil was published as a photobook by La Fabrica and in How We See: Photobooks made by Women, Colors Magazine, The Guardian and BJP. It was exhibited during FotoIstanbul, Organ Vida and at Deichtorhallen Hamburg, and it was a finalist at PHE OjodePez Award for Human Values and Renaissance Photography Prize, Arles Author Book Award and Prix Levallois.

She has also won a few prizes including the New York Photo Award and the DOCfield Dummy Award with Be Good. Maria is focusing on personal projects, but also works as an editorial photographer and teaches from time to time!


You Don’t Look Native to Me

“You Don‘t Look Native to Me” shows excerpts from the lives of young Native Americans from around Pembroke, Robeson County, North Carolina, where 89% of the city’s population identifies as Native American. The town is the tribal seat of the Lumbee Indian Tribe of North Carolina, the largest state-recognized Native American tribe east of the Mississippi River. Unlike many other Native American tribes, the people of Robeson County were never forced to move. For this reason, they formed a very strong bond to place, locally referred to as the swamp.

I am tracing their ways of self-representation, transformed through history, questions of identity with which they are confronted on a daily basis, and their reawakening pride in being Native. I am particularly interested in youth, because it is the period in which one begins the conscious and unconscious path to self- definition. The work consists of portraits, along with landscapes and places, interiors, still lifes, and situations. The aesthetic framework that is presented offers clues – sometimes subtle, sometimes loud – for imparting a feeling for their everyday lives.

My work engages an unfamiliar mix of concepts: a Native American tribe whose members are ignored by the outside world, who do not wear their otherness on their physique, but who are firm in their identity. I am focusing on an unusual and somewhat paradoxical kind of otherness, one which is not immediately apparent, even though they define themselves in this way. Through photography, video and interviews, I am investigating what happens when social and institutional structures break down and people are forced to rely on themselves for their own resources. This raises questions to the viewer regarding one’s own identity and membership to the unspecified mainstream.

This project was started in 2011.

To view more of Maria Sturm’s work please visit her website.