Renee Dennison is an artist and is based in Phoenix, AZ. Dennison currently teaches in ASU’s Online Digital Photography BFA program and Maricopa’s Community Colleges. She is a member of the Navajo Nation. In May 2018, Renée received her MFA in Photography from ASU’s School of Art, Herberger Institute for Design & the Arts.
Before graduating from the fine arts program at ASU, Renée spent over twenty years working for Native American organizations and tribal governments. She received a B.S. in Accounting from the University of Maryland and an M.B.A. in Finance and Investments from the George Washington University in Washington, DC.
Dennison’s work includes exploration of identity and her Diné culture using various photographic mediums. As a native woman, Dennison believes it is important to make work that is an authentic representation of native people and to emphasize the diversity of native people and cultures.
Finding My Way Home
My video is an exploration about who I am and where I am from and finding where I belong with respect to my Navajo culture. The beginning of my video is a reminder of the sense of isolation I feel even though I am surrounded by technology and people. This was the first time, since my grandmother’s death, that I returned to her home, a place where I spent much time growing up. The snow was melting quickly and I was struck by the many sounds of winter and began to record these subtle and distinct sounds. I realized that these sounds were comforting to me and a reminder of growing up, of family, and why I feel a strong attachment to this place.
The Sky, The Earth, & The North Star
My most cherished memories are spending time with my grandmother, who is Diné, and listening to her tell stories around the fire at night. Hearing my aunt describe the traditional Hogan’s significance to our people brings back many memories of my family gathering in the Hogan to share our joy, our sorrow, and our songs and ceremonies. Everything in the Hogan has meaning, from the dome that represents the sky to the floor that represents the earth, and the central fire that represents the North Star. Hearing the distinct and simple sounds of the world outside the Hogan are a reminder of the beauty of this place, my grandmother’s home.
““Yá’át’ééh shik’éí dóó shidine’é (Hello my relatives and my people). Renée Dennison yinishyé (I am called Renée Dennison). Lók’aa’ Ta’neeszahnii (I am of the Tangle clan). Áshįįhi Kinyaa’áanii (I am born of the Towering House clan)”. Kinyaa’áanii is the Diné clan name that identifies my grandmother and her children and their children and so on.
My earliest childhood memories are those where the family gathered around the fire listening to the many stories told by family, and, in particular, my grandmother. Her presence provided a sense of well-being. The loud crackling wood stove and feeling enveloped by the warmth as my grandmother told us story after story. At night, we heard the subtle but distinct sounds of nature, the hooting of owls, the scurry of cats on the rooftop, and an occasional dog barking in the distance. As the seasons changed, the whistling of the wind through the juniper trees was constant. In the morning, sunlight would flood the doorway from the East as another day was upon us.
After years of living away from the reservation and my home, I felt a distance, not just in miles, but in spirit. Upon my father’s passing I returned home and confronted the distance that had grown between me and the place and people I loved.
These videos are part of a larger body of photographic work entitled, “Kinyaa’áanii, Towering House”, in which I photographed my experiences with my 106-year old grandmother. It is a representation of my journey in rediscovering family, culture, and identity.”