Copyright Will Wilson

CIPX

Critical Indigenous Photographic Exchange

Solo Exhibition by Will Wilson

Friday August 5th, 2022 to Wednesday October 26th, 2022.

Opening reception Friday August 5th, 2022 from 5-7pm and Tintype portrait sessions during the opening.

As an indigenous artist working in the 21st century, employing media that range from historical photographic processes to the randomization and projection of complex visual systems within virtual environments, I am impatient with the way that American culture remains enamored of one particular moment in a photographic exchange between Euro-American and Aboriginal American societies: the decades from 1907 to 1930 when photographer Edward S. Curtis produced his magisterial opus The North American Indian. For many people even today, Native people remain frozen in time in Curtis photos.  Other Native artists have produced photographic responses to Curtis’s oeuvre, usually using humor as a catalyst to melt the lacquered romanticism of these stereotypical portraits.  I seek to do something different.  I intend to resume the documentary mission of Curtis from the standpoint of a 21st century indigenous, trans-customary, cultural practitioner.  I want to supplant Curtis’s Settler gaze and the remarkable body of ethnographic material he compiled with a contemporary vision of Native North America.

I propose to create a body of photographic inquiry that will stimulate a critical dialogue and reflection around the historical and contemporary “photographic exchange” as it pertains to Native Americans.  My aim is to convene with and invite indigenous artists, arts professionals, and tribal governance to engage in the performative ritual that is the studio portrait.  This experience will be intensified and refined by the use of large format (8x10) wet plate collodion studio photography. This beautifully alchemic photographic process dramatically contributed to our collective understanding of Native American people and, in so doing, our American identity. 

In August of 2012, at the New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe, I initiated the Critical Indigenous Photographic Exchange (CIPX).  This was the initial spark for an ongoing intervention into the history of photography that I plan to undertake.  I aim to link history, form, and a critical dialogue about Native American representation by engaging participants in dialogue and a portrait session using the wet plate process. This multi-faceted engagement will yield a series of “tintypes” (aluminum types) whose enigmatic, time-traveling aspect demonstrates how an understanding of our world can be acquired through fabricated methods. Through collaboration with my sitters I want to indigenize the photographic exchange.

 

Ultimately, I want to ensure that the subjects of my photographs are participating in the what post-colonial critic Homi K. Bhabha has termed the, “re-inscription of their customs and values in a way that will lead to a more equal distribution of power and influence in the cultural conversation.”  It is my hope that these Native American photographs will represent an intervention within the contentious and competing visual languages that form today’s photographic canon.  This critical indigenous photographic exchange will generate new forms of authority and autonomy. These alone—rather than the old paradigm of assimilation--can form the basis for a re-imagined vision of who we are as Native people.

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Bio
Will Wilson’s art projects center around the continuation and transformation of customary Indigenous cultural practice. He is a Diné photographer and trans-customary artist who spent his formative years living on the Navajo Nation. Wilson studied photography, sculpture, and art history at the University of New Mexico (MFA, Photography, 2002) and Oberlin College (BA, Studio Art and Art History, 1993). In 2007, Wilson won the Native American Fine Art Fellowship from the Eiteljorg Museum, in 2010 the Joan Mitchell Foundation Award for Sculpture, in 2016 the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant for Photography and in 2020 Wilson was the Doran Artist in Residence a the Yale University Art Gallery. Wilson has held visiting professorships at the Institute of American Indian Arts (1999-2000), Oberlin College (2000-01), and the University of Arizona (2006-08). In 2017, Wilson received the NM Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts. His work is exhibited and collected internationally. Wilson is program Head of Photography at Santa Fe Community College.