Surdna Foundation Grant Awarded to Northwest Artist Matika Wilbur

Matika Wilbur grant


Source: Tacoma Art Museum


Tacoma, WA – Seattle-area photographer Matika Wilbur, Swinomish and Tulalip, in collaboration with Tacoma Art Museum, has been awarded a 2015 Artists Engaging in Social Change grant from Surdna Foundation. The foundation received more than 1000 grant applications, and Wilbur is one of just 15 artists awarded through the program, receiving a grant of $157,000 (the largest award). The grant will support Wilbur’s Project 562, a nation-wide endeavor documenting contemporary Native American culture through photographic portraits and narratives from each federally recognized Native American tribe. Project 562 is the basis for compelling exhibitions, presentations, articles, books, and curricula that creatively surmount stereotypical representations, historical inaccuracies, and the absence of Native American images and voices in mass media and the national consciousness. 

The inaugural exhibition of Project 562 debuted in spring, 2014, at Tacoma Art Museum, receiving rave reviews from museum visitors and in regional and national press. More than 18,000 visitors saw the exhibition. TAM served as Wilbur’s fiscal sponsor, which enabled her to participate in the highly competitive grant program. 

Wilbur’s beautifully rendered portraits and stirring recordings from select sitters examine the Indian image across socioeconomic and intergenerational spectrums, from tribal to hardcore urban, traditional elders to assimilated teens, conveying the diversity among Native communities and individual experiences. Her provocative work exposes the strength and richness of contemporary Native life, and is profoundly shifting consciousness toward Native Americans. The project conveys the cultural diversity among Native communities and individual experiences.

The Surdna Foundation grant is an affirmation of the power of Wilbur’s work. “I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the Surdna Foundation’s support,” Wilbur said. “Their contribution will fundamentally improve our team’s efficiency and dramatically increase public access of Project 562. For hundreds of years, our ancestors have been calling for authentic stories of our people to be told. I believe that Project 562 is being guided and protected by our ancestors, and we raise our hands to the Surdna Foundation as a source of strength and for believing in our mission to change the way we see Native America.”

To date, Wilbur has driven over 150,000 miles across the United States and visited about 300 of the 567 federally recognized tribes in the United States. She has been welcomed into rare experiences and allowed images, voices, and ideas that have never before been represented. 

Rock Hushka, TAM’s Chief Curator, affirms Wilbur’s role as an inspired and unprecedented messenger: “We are grateful to Surdna Foundation for recognizing the quality and power of Matika’s work with this grant award. She has a rare combination of immense creativity, tenacity, and tremendous sensitivity. Project 562 provides crucial cultural understanding, capturing with unparalleled clarity the vibrancy of contemporary culture along with political and social issues of primary concern to Native Americans across the nation. We look forward to a continued relationship with this remarkable artist and future iterations of Project 562.” 

Surdna Foundation’s Artists Engaging in Social Change grants are designed to support individual artists, culture bearers, and nonprofit organizations whose work helps to inform, engage, or challenge people around specific social issues. Projects receiving funds were selected for the quality of the artistic practice and dedication to exploring critical themes that arise from, or impact a community; and for the project’s capacity to enable social change.

Surdna Foundation’s President Phil Henderson commented, “In an era of accelerated and often dramatic social and demographic change, artists and culture bearers play critical roles within our communities helping us understand and challenge pressing issues. Their visions, communicated through film, performance, text, spoken word and other forms can help communities achieve a sense of connectedness and common purpose.”

Image Credit: Matika WilburMary Evelyn Belgarde (Pueblo of Isleta and Ohkay Owingeh), 2014. Digital silver image, 16 x 20 inches. Courtesy of the artist.




About The Surdna Foundation
The Surdna Foundation seeks to foster sustainable communities in the United States — communities guided by principles of social justice and distinguished by healthy environments, strong local economies, and thriving cultures. For over five generations, the Foundation has been governed largely by descendants of John Andrus and has developed a tradition of innovative service for those in need of help or opportunity.  The Foundation’s support arts and cultural projects through its Thriving Cultures grantmaking program which is based on a belief that communities with robust arts and culture are more cohesive and prosperous, and benefit from the diversity of their residents. Surdna believes that artists and cultural organizations can help us explore shared values and spark innovation, imagination and advancement for our communities.
Contact: George Soule, Director of Communications, Surdna Foundation


Artist Matika Wilbur: 


About Tacoma Art Museum
Celebrating 80 years, Tacoma Art Museum has become an anchor in the city’s downtown and a gathering space for connecting people through art. TAM’s collection contains more than 4,500 works, with an emphasis on the art and artists of the Northwest and broader American west. The collection includes the world’s largest retrospective museum collection of glass art by Tacoma native Dale Chihuly on continued view; the world’s largest collection of jewelry by Northwest artists; key holdings in 19th century European and 20th century American art; and one of the finest collections of Japanese woodblock prints on the West Coast. TAM recently welcomed a gift of 295 works of Western American art in the Haub Family Collection, one of the premier collections in the nation and the first major western American art museum collection in the Northwest. 
HOURS – Tuesdays–Sundays 10 am–5 pm. 
 – Adult $14; Student (6-17), Military, Senior (65+) $12; Family $35 (2 adults and up to 4 children under 18). 
Children 5 and under free. 
Third Thursdays free from 5–8 pm. Members always free.
CONTACT – 253-272-4258,

Native American travels across U.S. photographing citizens of tribal nations

Courtesy Matika WilburJenni Parker, right, and granddaughter Sharlyse Parker of the Northern Cheyenne tribe pose in Lame Deer, Mont., in August.
Courtesy Matika Wilbur
Jenni Parker, right, and granddaughter Sharlyse Parker of the Northern Cheyenne tribe pose in Lame Deer, Mont., in August.

By Simon Moya-Smith, Staff Writer, NBC News

She sleeps on couches, dines with strangers and lives out of her car. Still, Matika Wilbur does it for the art and for the people.

Wilbur is Native American. Invariably strapped to her arm is a camera, and other than a few provisions and clothing, she owns little else. Last year she sold everything in her Seattle apartment, packed a few essentials into her car and then hit the road.

Since then, she’s been embarking on her most recent project, “Project 562.”

The plan is to photograph citizens of each federally recognized tribe, Wilbur said. Sometimes she’ll journey to an isolated reservation, other times she’ll meet some of the 70 percent of Native Americans living in urban settings. Yet she hopes that when her project is complete it will serve to educate the nation and “shift the collective conscious” toward recognizing its indigenous communities.

To date, Wilbur has photographed citizens of 159 tribes.

In 2010, when Wilbur first conceptualized the campaign, there were 562 federally recognized tribes in the U.S., hence the name. Since then, the U.S. government has added four more nations to the list.

Courtesy Matika WilburNative American activist and poet John Trudell, left, and Son Coup of the Santee Sioux Nation pose for a photo in San Francisco, Calif., in July. 


The project all began three years ago when Wilbur photographed her elders from both of her tribes, the Swinomish and Tulalip. She soon decided it was not enough to photograph only her people. After raising $35,000 through, an online funding platform, she had enough to realize her project and zip across the country capturing the faces of this nation’s first peoples.

Wilbur said her project is aimed toward debunking the bevy of erroneous stereotypes surrounding Native American culture and society and to reiterate the continual presence of Native Americans.

“We are still here,” she said. “We remain.”

One of those stereotypes is the image of Indians clad in feathers, nearly naked running across the prairie, whooping it up like what’s oft portrayed in western cinema. Also the caricature image of Indians as mascots.

With that in mind, Wilbur said the project is meant to drive conversations about the ubiquitous appropriation of Native American culture and to discuss how U.S. citizens can evolve beyond the co-opting of indigenous images and traditions.

“I hope to educate these audiences that it’s not OK to dress up like an Indian on Halloween,” she said. “I’m not a Halloween costume. I hope to encourage a new conversation of sharing and to help us move beyond the stereotypes.”

Wilbur added that she hopes her photos — her craft — will display the “beauty of (Native) people and to introduce some of our leaders to a massive audience.”

Wilbur, 29, operates on a modest budget and relies heavily on the “generosity and kindness” of the people she meets when travelling throughout Indian country. Many of her photo subjects will host her overnight and provide her with meals.

Courtesy Matika WilburAnna Cook of the Swinomish and Hualapai tribes poses for a photo in Swinomish, Wash., earlier this month. 


“I come in a good way. I bring gifts. I interact with their children well. I behave myself. I walk the red road,” she said. “People believe in my project because they, too, have been affected by the stereotypical image and they want to see it change.”

In between shoots, or maybe over dinner, Wilbur will tape record her subjects as they impart their wisdom and life stories. She plans to transfer the files to an application, which will coincide the corresponding photos in a future exhibition.

In the last year, Wilbur has slept in her two-seater Honda only once or twice but, following a new fundraiser in January, she hopes to get a van to sleep in on those long nights out on the open road.

Wilbur said that the fact that there are newly recognized tribes is indicative of the progress Native Americans are making today and that she plans to photograph the four tribes as well as various others who haven’t been recognized by the federal government.

Currently, Native Americans make up 1.6 percent of the entire U.S. population, according to the U.S. Census.

On Oct. 31, President Barack Obama proclaimed November 2013 as Native American Heritage Month and designated Nov. 29, 2013 as Native American Heritage Day.

Wilbur’s previous work has been showcased across the U.S. and internationally at the Royal British Columbia Museum in Canada and the Fine Arts Museum of Nantes in France.

In May 2014, the Tacoma Art Museum in Washington will host an exhibition of Wilbur’s collection of photos. In the meantime, she says she’ll continue her project and “let it flow as the spirit moves it.”

Photographing Vanishing Cultures With a Huge Camera, Hoping for an Even Bigger Impact

By Alyssa Landry, Indian Country Today Media Network

Dennis wants to photograph people in their home environment, which means he needs a big truck. (Vanishing Cultures Project)
Dennis wants to photograph people in their home environment, which means he needs a big truck. (Vanishing Cultures Project)

A two-story-high photograph of Joe Yazzie towers over the viewer—every scar, wrinkle and hint of emotion on his face magnified. That face, larger than life, is the very essence of a Navajo man caught between traditional and modern worlds.

Yazzie’s portrait will greet the curious who come to see what promises to be the largest photo exhibit in history—not in terms of the number of photos, but in the size and resolution of those photographs.

Chicago-based photographer Dennis Manarchy is making photographs that dwarf most other prints: at 24 feet tall and with a resolution of 97,000 megapixels, he hopes each portrait will tell the story of one of America’s vanishing cultures.

“We’re going to start the exhibit with my portrait of Joe Yazzie, who is Navajo,” Manarchy says. “When you walk into the exhibit, you’ll see Joe. Your head will be smaller than his pupil. As you approach, you will be engulfed by him.”

That “total cultural immersion” is what Manarchy has in mind for the exhibit, which has been in the works for 12 years. “You’ll remember this for the rest of your life,” he says.

Manarchy plans to unveil his supersize, traveling exhibit, Vanishing Cultures: An American Portrait, by 2014. The exhibit space, which will be about two-thirds the size of a football field, will show America a snapshot of itself, Manarchy claims—a snapshot taken before some of the most precious and endangered cultures in the country deteriorate further.

“Portraits are powerful,” he explains, “but they are so much more powerful with stories. In America, there are essential cultures that are vanishing. The people aren’t vanishing, but the cultural identification is vanishing.”

Take Yazzie, for example. Born near Gallup, New Mexico, he attended boarding schools in which he was forbidden to use his native language. After boarding school, he relocated to Chicago, then was drafted into the Army during the Vietnam War. In the process, Yazzie lost much of his Navajo culture. “When you leave your culture, when you’re very young and you move to the city, then when you go home, you don’t fit in,” Yazzie says. “You miss what you were supposed to be, what you were supposed to learn from your parents, your grandparents, the medicine men.”

Yazzie (Dennis Manarchy)
Yazzie (Dennis Manarchy)


Yazzie married an Italian woman after his wartime service. His two sons had little interest in the Navajo culture, and his 8-year-old grandson has no knowledge of it. “We are losing our tongue, our songs, our culture, our heritage,” he says. “It will not be brought back.

“This project is really about a face that’s going away soon,” Yazzie says. “They’re saying, You better get to know this face because you’ll never see it again. And it’s not just the face, but the story behind it.”

The portrait of Yazzie, 70, a graphic artist in Chicago, represents one of 50 cultures Manarchy hopes to capture on film during a year-long journey that will take him from the Inuit people in Alaska to the Cajun communities in the swamps of Louisiana. The project will include about a dozen American Indian tribes, many of which are experiencing loss of culture and language at alarming rates as the younger generations move to cities.

Manarchy is focusing on cultures that are intact and represent an important chunk of American history. His itinerary includes stops among the Amish of Pennsylvania, railroaders of West Virginia, cowboys of Idaho, motorcyclists of South Dakota and blues women of his hometown of Chicago. Tribes on the itinerary include the Chickasaw and Shawnee in Tennessee, the Comanche Nation in Texas, Taos Pueblo in New Mexico, Hopi in Arizona, Navajo in Utah, Northwest Indians in Washington, Blackfoot in Montana, Cheyenne in Wyoming, the Inuit in Alaska and the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Manarchy and his team plan to stay for a week or two each in 25 to 35 locations, shooting portraits of people representing 50 unique cultures that are being swallowed up or homogenized.

“The purpose of the project is to go to the home environments of different cultures,” project director Chad Tepley says. “Most of these people won’t travel 10 to 15 miles from their homes in their lifetimes, so it’s really important to get the camera to them.”

Manarchy, a commercial photographer with decades of experience, is looking to tell the stories behind every photo, and to preserve cultures with the biggest snapshots he can manage. For that, he insists he needs a big camera. His will fit snugly inside a semi-trailer and produce negatives that are six feet tall.

He also plans to produce documentary films and other educational materials about every culture he encounters. The finished exhibit will include portraits, filmed footage, the negatives and the giant camera itself, which weighs about one ton. “This will be a powerful educational tool,” Tepley says. “It will be a visual social studies class with videos of the cultures. It will be a very powerful way to show children what’s out there.”
The exhibit will be particularly poignant when it comes to teaching children about American Indians, Tepley says. The federal government recognizes 566 American Indian tribes today, though many children grow up believing tribes are the stuff of history or folklore. “They are not aware of the role these people played or the true perspective of how tribes have evolved,” Tepley adds.”

During the planning of the project, Tepley and Manarchy researched tribes to pinpoint the ones whose cultures were most intact. They enlisted help from an advisory committee, including members of several different

Chandra Brown, Gullah Geechee (Dennis Manarchy)
Chandra Brown, Gullah Geechee (Dennis Manarchy)

American Indian tribes who are offering cultural advice and will introduce him and his camera to Native communities.

By its nature, the project is bringing various cultures together, says Wendy White Eagle, Ho-Chunk, a project advisor. “I think the conversation today is more important than ever about how everyone is connected,” she says.

Although the exhibit will preserve the cultures as they are being expressed now, the project is not meant to discount future generations who will continue to celebrate tradition. “The world is evolving, not [so] much vanishing,” White Eagle says. “There are people coming behind them, and the expression of the culture might be different, but the core values might not be.”

Opening day of the exhibit still is about two years in the future. He is raising money to pay for the journey, which he estimates will cost more than copy7 million—he and his team hope to embark on the 20,000-mile, cross-country expedition by spring. He will spend a minimum of one year traveling and shooting, then at least six months editing before his exhibit opens in Chicago. Manarchy hopes to have 500 to 600 giant portraits to choose from when setting up the exhibit. He knows that each portrait will tell a story.

“All we really have is our stories,” says Nora Lloyd, Ojibwe, another advisor for the project.

Lloyd, who also posed in front of the camera, praises the project because of its ability to preserve history. She does, however, have some trepidation about seeing a 24-foot-tall reproduction of her face. “Dennis is doing a huge service by preserving things that people otherwise would never hear about, and in an enormously dramatic fashion,” she says. “A face with wrinkles and imperfections makes more interesting subjects. It really does show the essence of someone.”