A Q&A with Photographer Lisa Levart

A representative from ArtsNews recently spoke with Nyack photographer Lisa Levart about the inspiration and process behind her Women of the Ramapough Lenape Nation portrait series, which she’s been working spent the past six years. Levart is a winner of this year’s ArtsWestchester’s Larry Salley Photography Award, one of several Arts Awards given annually by ArtsWestchester. A luncheon on April 19 will recognize all Arts Award winners. Works from Levart’s series will be displayed in ArtsWestchester’s 2023 The Lawrence Salley Photography Award exhibition along with the works of nine other photographers from April 8-23.

Q: How did you become interested in the Ramapough Lenape Nation?

A: I had a book release of my portraits of women portraying sacred mythology. When it was released, I realized that I had met a lot of indigenous women throughout my travels around the country while I was photographing at various conferences and spiritual retreats. It made me wonder who the indigenous people were in Rockland, which is where I live. I didn’t know who they were, and I wanted to find out.

Q: How do you photograph native Americans without turning them into exotic objects?

A: The foundation for each portrait is a myth, a story that the woman I’m photographing wants to portray, wants to share. It’s a story that they’ve chosen themselves, so it’s already a deeply personal subject. They are who they want us to see them as. And it’s a radical act of saying, I am here. See me. For women, that is a radical act, and for native women who have been suppressed and not seen, it’s even more so.

Q: What have you learned from this photo series?

A: When I started this project, quite soon after the first one or two portraits, my parents passed away. My parents were very influential on me. My father was a photographer, and my mother was a dancer. All the women were so supportive and understood this was a major transition. I learned that we all stand on the shoulders of our ancestors and want to honor that.

Q: What’s your advice for someone who wants to photograph people of a different culture?

A: When you want to photograph someone, you show up. This is a relationship. You go to their plays. You see their work. You go to their culture. It’s not run in, run out. It’s a relationship you’re developing and that’s why this project has gone on for very long. For me, it’s co-creating. It’s listening, being present and building trust between you and those you are photographing.

Q: What do you hope the exhibition’s visitors will take away from your photographs?

A: I hope they will realize that these women are still here. They are people we work with and they are all around us, but they’ve been marginalized and separated and made invisible.

The Lawrence Salley Photography Award 2023 Exhibition runs from April 8 to April 23 with a reception on April 22 in ArtsWestchester’s gallery at 31 Mamaroneck Avenue in White Plains. The gallery’s hours Tues-Fri & Sun 12-5pm and Sat 12-6pm.


Photo Credit:  “Hawk Woman”  by Lisa Levart

About ArtsWestchester

For more than 50 years, ArtsWestchester has been the community’s connection to the arts. Founded in 1965, it is the largest private not-for-profit arts council in New York State. Its mission is to create an equitable, inclusive, vibrant and sustainable Westchester County in which the arts are integral to and integrated into every facet of life. ArtsWestchester provides programs and services that enrich the lives of everyone in Westchester County. ArtsWestchester helps fund concerts, exhibitions and plays through grants; brings artists into schools and community centers; advocates for the arts; and builds audiences through diverse marketing initiatives. In 1998, ArtsWestchester purchased the nine-story neo-classical bank building at 31 Mamaroneck Avenue which has since been transformed into a multi-use resource for artists, cultural organizations and the community. A two-story gallery is located on the first floor of ArtsWestchester’s historic building on Mamaroneck Avenue. artsw.org

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