Matika Wilbur’s ‘Project 562: Changing the Way We See Native America’

The Pete and Susan Barrett Art Gallery at Santa Monica College (SMC) is excited to present “Project 562: Changing the Way We See Native America”, by widely acclaimed photographer, writer, podcaster, and public speaker Matika Wilbur from the Tulalip and Swinomish Tribes. The exhibition opens Friday, August 25 and will be on view through May 15, 2023. Wilbur is also SMC’s artist-in-residence over the 2022-2023 academic year, and an opening reception plus keynote speech by Wilbur are slated for October 11, with details forthcoming.

Wilbur’s consciousness-shifting exhibition counteracts the relentlessly insipid, demeaning, clichéd representation of Indigenous peoples in mainstream media with an unprecedented repository of imagery and oral histories that accurately portrays the diversity and richness of contemporary Native America. The show is made possible with generous support from Mark and Freya Ivener, as well as from SMC Associated Students; SMC’s Division of Equity, Pathways and Inclusion; SMC Associates; SMC Global Council; SMC Public Policy Institute; and SMC Foundation.

Matika Wilbur founded Project 562 ten years ago as a teacher at the Tribal school in her community. After experiencing the visceral and violent effects that one-dimensional racist Native imagery had on her students, she sold everything in her Seattle apartment and packed her life into her RV, the “Big Girl.” Wilbur then set out to make pictures of folks from more than 562 federally recognized Tribes. Over the last decade, that goal has expanded as she’s trekked across Turtle Island and beyond, documenting and amplifying contemporary Indigeneity. Wilbur has now visited over 750 communities and talked story with countless relatives. 

The Project 562 book will be published in spring 2023 by Ten Speed Press and Penguin Random House. Project 562 is Wilbur’s fourth major creative project elevating Native American identity and culture. Her first project captured portraits of Coast Salish elders for We Are One People (2004, Seattle Art Museum). Her next project, We Emerge, featured Native people in contemporary urban and traditional settings (2008, Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture), and was followed by Save the Indian and Kill the Man, which addressed the forced cultural assimilation of Native peoples (2012, Tacoma Art Museum).

Since 2015, Wilbur has delivered more than 300 keynote speeches at institutions such as Harvard University, Stanford University, Google, the National Education Association, and TED. She is a National Geographic Explorer and recipient of the distinguished Leica Photo Award. She co-hosts the popular Native issues podcast All My Relations, which invites guests to explore the connections between land, creatural relatives, and one another.

As Santa Monica College’s artist-in-residence for 2022-2023, Wilbur collaborated with Barrett Gallery Director Emily Silver and SMC students to build her exhibition from the ground up. Students were involved in building walls, printing and framing imagery, conducting deep dive research, and art handling. Together, Wilbur and the students curated images centered around authentic, poignant narratives, and crafted this groundbreaking show.

Matika Wilbur will deliver a keynote speech Oct. 11, 2022 at 3 p.m. in the Student Services Orientation Hall on SMC’s main campus. All are invited to meet the artist and celebrate her work with SMC’s students at a reception in the Barrett Art Gallery following the keynote, from 6 p.m.-8 p.m.

And on Nov. 18-19, SMC students will work with Wilbur and the All My Relations Podcast team to produce live episodes, recorded in front of an audience. Following the All My Relations podcast event, Wilbur and the students will host an Indigenous Film Festival featuring some of the most exciting Native filmmakers of today and tomorrow.

“Equity, diversity, and inclusion are an intrinsic part of Santa Monica College’s culture, and drives everything we do,” said Barrett Art Gallery director Emily Silver. “Matika Wilbur’s work ties in seamlessly with that focus, and we are beyond thrilled to be showcasing her thought-provoking, urgent work, especially as it will speak powerfully to  SMC’s diverse students about the transformative power of art and representation.”

Dispatches from Project 562 can be found @project_562, and on matikawilbur.com, project562.com, and allmyrelationspodcast.com. For more information on the Santa Monica College exhibition and all the upcoming events, contact silver_emily@smc.edu or visit smcbarrettgallery.com (the gallery is also on Instagram as @smcbarrettgallery). Guests should visit smc.edu/coronavirus before heading to the gallery for up-to-date details on vaccine and mask requirements, as the requirements are subject to change.

Submitted by Grace Smith