Matika Wilbur is a Pacific Northwest photographer who is part of the Swinomish and Tulalip Tribes (Washington). In her unique position as both an artist and a social documentarian Wilbur became interested in capturing the contemporary Native identity and experience of Native Americans. Originally simply curious about her own identity and the way it grappled with how she felt others perceived her, Wilbur began a small project on her community’s elders. That small project morphed into an ambitious process of documentation.
With great insight, depth and passion Wilbur began Project 562. Despite the current cultural, economic and political progression of the Native Americans Wilbur was distraught by the strong and incorrect stereotypes that prevail. The 2010 census shows about 5.2 million Native Americans living in the United States and Wilbur feels it is important to portray how this significant population lives today. Thus she embarked on a 60,000 mile roadtrip to begin documenting citizens of each of the more than 560 federally recognized Native American tribes in the United States.
Along with photographs, Wilbur is taking oral narratives from all Tribal communities. Seeking out elders, cultural bearers, linguists, teachers, activists, artists, professionals and other contemporary Native Americans Wilbur is organizing her photographs and stories into a comprehensive and through project. As Wilbur explains, “My goal is to represent Native people from every tribe. By exposing the astonishing variety of the Indian presence and reality at this juncture, we will build cultural bridges, abandon stereotypes, and renew and inspire our national legacy.”
Sparking conversation about Edward Curtis, Wilbur responds to comparisons by saying that Curtis was a white man, who would bring his own “props” and pair clothing with the incorrect tribe—rarely even bothering to know the names of his subjects. Wilbur, on the other hand, wants to know the stories of her subjects and wants to portray them accurately, shunning the stereotypes Curtis’ photographs, to this day, perpetuate.
Having just completed a successful Kickstarter campaign Wilbur will continue with her project. A collection of images and interviews will be on display at The Tacoma Art Museum in May.