Joseph J. Allen, Hakikta

Joseph J. Allen stands in the gallery with his exhibition Hakikta

About the Exhibition

Hakikta (“to look back” in Dakota) presents an overview of the thirty-year career of Joseph J. Allen, on view at the Winona County History Center through June 9, 2024. Joseph is a photographer whose celebrated engagement with Native land and people has been exhibited in spaces such as the Weisman Art Museum, Minnesota Historical Society, and Plains Art Museum. Joseph's photography was featured in the In Our Hands: Native Photography, 1890 to Now exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

Artist Statement by Joseph J. Allen

I was introduced to photography when in the 1970s. My Uncle was a Lieutenant in the Navy and served on the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier—the USS Enterprise. He had a 35mm camera and took pictures during his tour of duty. He also had a slide projector and would make us sit through slide shows during family gatherings. He passed away when I was in high school. He never married or had children, so my mother gave me his camera and projector. I taught myself to shoot 35mm slide and color negative film with his Argus rangefinder. It wasn’t until I was in my late 20s that I began to see photography as more than a hobby. I took classes at the Minneapolis Community College beginning in 1989 and learned to process black and white film and print both color and black and white prints in the darkroom. I bought a Canon EOS 630 camera and gear and began working as a freelance photographer, mainly for the Minneapolis-based Native American newspaper The Circle. I also took photos at Pow Wows throughout the region.

I see photography as a way to tell a story—the story of who I am and where I live from my perspective. The notion that photography is or can be objective is a myth. I choose what to include or exclude in the frame. I have used my photography to push against the prevailing stereotypes of who is or what is Native American.

In 2001, I was asked to create photos for an exhibit with a series of Edward Curtis prints. I created a series of portraits using a medium-format camera and color film. The life-sized color portraits were juxtaposed with Curtis’s sepia-toned images of Native Americans from the late 1800s and early 1900s.  “Clyde Bellecourt” and “Philip Chaltas” come from that exhibit.

The landscapes in this exhibit come from a series titled “After Contact.” I worked as a freelance photographer for a Native-owned media company in Minneapolis. One of my assignments was to document Dakota sites throughout Minnesota. I learned a lot about my own Dakota heritage and wanted to do a personal and more artistic exploration of these sites. My intent was not to make a literal documentation of each place. The goal was to create images that conveyed my thoughts and feelings as I visited each site. The imperfections and aberrations imparted to the images reflect the sense of dislocation and loss I felt as I learned more about my Dakota heritage. The photos allow me to reconnect to the land and gain a deeper understanding of what happened to my ancestors.

About the Artist

Joseph J. Allen is a citizen of the Sicangu Lakota Oyate. His Dakota ancestors were among those exiled from Mni Sota Makoce. He is also a direct descendant of the White Earth Ojibwe Nation. He lives in rural Sugarbush Township within the White Earth Nation in northern Minnesota.

His photographs are in the collections of the Weisman Art Museum, the Minnesota Historical Society, and the C. N. Gorman Museum at UC Davis. He is a past recipient of a McKnight Photography fellowship, an alumnus of Intermedia Arts’ Creative Community Leadership Institute, a 2012 Blandin Reservation Leadership fellow, and a Springboard for the Arts’ 20/20 Artist Fellow in 2020.

Joseph serves on the board of the Manoomin Arts Initiative and is a former board member of the Region 2 Arts Council. He is currently the director of the Gizhiigin Arts Incubator in Mahnomen, MN—a project of the White Earth Nation’s economic development division. Gizhiigin supports Indigenous artists by providing services and resources to advance their artistic and entrepreneurial goals.


Art of the Rural is grateful for the generous support of the Winona Community Foundation in making this exhibition possible.


A long-term, collaborative initiative grounded in the cultures, communities, and histories of the Upper Mississippi River region.