Seeds of Culture: The Portraits and Voices of Native American Women
On display through November 2019 in the Mashantucket Gallery
Matika Wilbur (Swinomish and Tulalip) is one of the nation’s leading photographers, based in the Pacific Northwest. Her most recent endeavor, Project 562, is a multi-year national project dedicated to photographing over 562 federally recognized tribes in the United States resulting in an unprecedented repository of imagery and oral histories that accurately portrays contemporary Native Americans.
Seeds of Culture: The Portraits and Voices of Native American Women provides remarkable insights into contemporary Native American women. Wilbur has curated the striking photographs from among the thousands of portraits she has taken in recent years. The photographs are accompanied by written narratives and audio of the interviews she conducts as part of her project. Elders, activists, educators, culture-bearers, artists, and students have shared with Wilbur their realities as Native women. They convey how ancestral and contemporary identities shape their lives and hopes in Indian Country.
"We portray the extraordinary lives and stories of Native women throughout North America. I believe the viewers will experience great understanding and connection with these remarkable women, just as they have enlightened and inspired me. Native women are traditionally the stewards of the vital relationship with land, and have remained principal advocates for mother Earth, from fracking protests to enduring matrilineal values. By exposing the astonishing variety of the Indian presence and reality, we will build cultural bridges, abandon stereotypes, and renew and inspire our national legacy." – Matika
To capture the spirit and essence of her portrait sitters, Matika spends several hours or even days with a participant, often even residing in their homes. She honors traditional potlatch protocol, bringing gifts to honor traditional trade culture, and shares songs and prayers. Sitters choose their portrait locations, most frequently geographically remote reservations, but also urban settings. An oral history accompanies each portrait, capturing the subject’s unique experience, and fully bringing an individual to life. These relationships and approaches reveal an intimacy in her portraits unlike popular street photography or classic journalism, an approach Matika describes as "an indigenous photography method."
Photographs are captured on traditional black and white film and shot in the zone system. Once developed, they are printed on silver gelatin fiber and hand-colored by Matika with oil paints. The craftsmanship of each image is a time-honored process that, in keeping with her shooting method, honors the traditional artisanship of black and white photography.
Visit www.project562.com for more information.
"The time of sharing, building cultural bridges, abolishing racism, and honoring the legacy that this country is built upon is among us. Project 562 is that platform." – Matika