Seeds of Culture: The Portraits and Stories of
Native American Women

AN Exhibition by Matika Wilbur

April 29 – May 28, 2016

Johnson-Kulukundis Family Gallery
Hours: Noon–5 PM, Monday–Saturday
Byerly Hall, 8 Garden Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

Opening reception: Wednesday, February 1, 2017, at 5 p.m.

The Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University presents a new exhibition, Seeds of Culture: The Portraits and Stories of Native American Women, by Matika Wilbur, a photographer from the Tulalip and Swinomish tribes (Washington) and the creator and director of Project 562. Wilbur’s exhibition at Radcliffe’s Johnson-Kulukundis Family Gallery provides insights into contemporary Native American women.

“Matika Wilbur is a critically acclaimed photographer and social documentarian,” said Yukio Lippit, Johnson-Kulukundis Family Faculty Director of the Arts at the Radcliffe Institute and a professor of history of art and architecture at Harvard University. “We are delighted to be able to exhibit her work at the Radcliffe Institute. Not only is her work visually compelling, but it sheds new light on the lives and experiences of Native communities all across America. And through her prodigious crowd-funded traveling and interviewing, she represents a dynamic new way of being an artist.”

Wilbur is the only Native American photographer to be welcomed into each of the 562+ Native American sovereign territories in the United States. For the past three years, Wilbur has collaborated with scores of tribes to share the images and truths of Native American peoples.

In the exhibition, Wilbur has curated the striking photographs from among the thousands of portraits she has taken in recent years. Written narratives and audio of the interviews she conducts as part of her project accompany the photographs. Elders, activists, educators, culture-bearers, artists, and students have shared with Wilbur their realities as Native women. They convey how ancestral and contemporary identities shape their lives and hopes in Indian Country.

“We portray the extraordinary lives and stories of Native women throughout North America. I believe the viewers will experience great understanding and connection with these remarkable women, just as they have enlightened and inspired me,” explains Wilbur. “Native women are traditionally the stewards of the vital relationship with land and have remained principal advocates for Mother Earth, from fracking protests to enduring matrilineal values. By exposing the astonishing variety of the Indian presence and reality, we will build cultural bridges, abandon stereotypes, and renew and inspire our national legacy.” 

Viewers to the Johnson-Kulukundis Family Gallery experience a glimpse into the lives of Native women from across the Northeast—a Wampanoag ceramist and tribal historian from Massachusetts, a Mohawk molecular and cellular biologist from upstate New York, and a Wabanaki basket maker from Maine—and the continental United States—a Pueblo professor and educator from New Mexico and a Tulalip mother-daughter pair who advocate for women’s rights in Washington.

This exhibition at the Radcliffe Institute is part of the Initiative on Native and Indigenous Peoples and is presented in collaboration with the Harvard University Native American Program.

“The arts are integral to how we explore complex issues at Radcliffe because art offers us new ways of understanding and unexpected insights. That is why the arts have figured prominently in the multifaceted Initiative on Native and Indigenous Peoples that we have undertaken this year with the Harvard University Native American Program,” said Radcliffe Institute Dean Lizabeth Cohen. “Matika Wilbur’s photographs and stories from Native women reveal the diversity of political expression—and lived realities—among native people within the United States today.”

About the Artist

Matika Wilbur, one of the Pacific Northwest’s leading photographers, has exhibited extensively in regional, national, and international venues such as the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes, in France, the Royal BC Museum, the Seattle Art Museum, and the Tacoma Art Museum. She studied photography at the Rocky Mountain School of Photography in Montana and received a bachelor’s degree from Brooks Institute of Photography in California. Her work led her to becoming a certified teacher at Tulalip Heritage High School, providing inspiration for the youth of her own indigenous community. Wilbur, a Native American woman of the Swinomish and Tulalip Tribes (Washington), is unique as an artist and social documentarian in Indian Country—the insight, depth, and passion with which she explores the contemporary Native identity and experience are communicated through the impeccable artistry of each of her silver gelatin photographs.