Natural Wanderment: Stewardship. Sovereignty. Sacredness.

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Natural Wanderment: Stewardship. Sovereignty. Sacredness.

January 18 – March 8, 2024

808 Gallery

Boston University Arts Initiative, in partnership with Boston University Art Galleries, presented a special exhibition at 808 Gallery in spring 2024: Natural Wanderment: Stewardship. Sovereignty. Sacredness., which is part of the expansive Project 562Changing the Way We See Native America. The book by the same name was published in April 2023, and instantly became a New York Times Best Seller.

Created by acclaimed visual artist and social documentarian Matika Wilbur, who is from the Tulalip & Swinomish Tribes, Project 562 is a bold creative expedition to collaborate with each of the 562-plus sovereign Native American nations in the United States in their own territories for superb photographic portraits and compelling narratives of contemporary Native American identity. Over the course of producing Project 562, Wilbur traveled through all 50 states, from Seminole country, now known as the Everglades in South Florida, to Inuit territory, now known as the Bering Sea in Alaska. By her estimation, she photographed some 1200 people, personally visiting about 400 different tribes. This creative, consciousness-shifting work is now distributed as curricula in partnership with the National Education Association: “A Visual Leaning Guide to Transform, Indigenize & Decolonize,” in her 416 page book published by Ten Speed Press, at various exhibitions around the world, through her podcast All My Relations, and at Project562.com.

Matika Wilbur, a member of the Swinomish and Tulalip nations
Matika Wilbur, a member of the Swinomish and Tulalip nations, lives in Washington. In addition to her photography, she is the cohost of All My Relations, a podcast exploring Native American relationships and representation. Photo courtesy of Matika Wilbur

Wilbur’s goal is to unveil the dynamic identity, consciousness, and expression of the numerous distinct indigenous peoples of the nation, especially the positivity of Tribal existence. “I look for our heroes and we have them – they walk among us,” says Wilbur, whose mission includes producing vital “healing imagery” so desperately needed by Native American youths while fostering intense visibility and interconnectedness among Native peoples. Wilbur’s innovative artistry in documenting the peoples and stories of Project 562 has enjoyed tremendous national and international success and appeal, with multifaceted, passionate support to build cultural bridges, abolish stereotypes, and renew and inspire a national legacy.

Natural Wanderment: Stewardship. Sovereignty. Sacredness. is based on perhaps the most important truth Wilbur has discovered in her journey to date: that ancestral land is the basis of Native American identity. “I have had to experience for myself the incredible range of homelands of tribal nations, to interact with peoples in their ancient territories to grasp how the connection to natural places makes us who we are.”

Despite western ideologies and systems that undermine this living truth, reflects Wilbur, there remain the “people of the blue green water,” the “people of the tall pine trees,” the “people of the tide.” Wilbur’s portrait art expresses the “ecological being” of sitters, imbuing these images and narratives with the aspiration and force of the original stewards of the land, which is crucial to not only the sovereignty and dignity of Native Americans, but also the preservation and majesty of the natural world.

This special show is being offered at this juncture to share these people’s vital work and understanding and to explore the extraordinary landscapes of Native America.

Starflower Montoya of the Digueno and Taos Pueblo indigenous tribe is pictured in a traditional Taos manta dress as she makes a yearly pilgrimage to Blue Lake, a key tradition of her tribe. The photo, taken by Matika Wilbur, is part of an exhibition at the 808 Gallery called Natural Wanderment: Stewardship. Sovereignty. Sacredness. that aims to capture stories Native American stories from ALl across the United States. Photo captured January 20 by Julian Massari (ENG'26).

Celebrating Native American Tribal Nations: Photography Exhibition at 808 Gallery

Natural Wanderment: Stewardship. Sovereignty. Sacredness, on view at the 808 Gallery through March 8, examines Native American relationships to land, spirituality, and the ongoing fight for sovereignty. Photo by Julian Massari (ENG’26)

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Photos by Tom Tranfaglia

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