David Lamelas’s The Desert People: An Odyssey for Authentic Representation

Loretta Ramirez


In The Desert People (1974) by Argentine artist David Lamelas, screened at the UCLA Hammer Museum (January-June 2016), five travelers contribute to an ethnographic documentary about the southeastern Arizonan Papago tribe. However, the travelers’ untimely doom triggers a paradox—their screened interviews could not have been filmed prior to their demise. This paradox prompts audiences to reevaluate the film’s authenticity in the representation of the Papago’s reality. The verdict may be that depiction of human relations in visual culture is inadequate. Yet, might fragmented truths that function to keep alive a dying society still be worthy alternatives to the total disappearance of a Native American culture? The Desert People explores this question.


David Lamelas; Argentine Artist; ethnographic film; fictional documentary; Native American representation

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5195/contemp.2016.176

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