by James Foritano
Just a turn into the charming old Radcliffe Yard through the gate opposite Cambridge Common and I’m in Byerly Hall. Project 562, now in the Johnson-Kulukundis Family Gallery of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, is a multi-year project by the Native American photographer Matika Wilson to photograph citizens of each federally recognized tribe in the United States.
The new, expanded gallery, just inside the doorway of Byerly Hall, is already being used, in this reviewer’s opinion, to maximum effect. Twenty-five portrait photographs of Native American women in all stages of life parade around the four walls, while from hidden ceiling speakers their voices sound with an unobtrusive yet speaking fidelity.
Wilson’s personality is itself robust as she asks us press people which portraits we’d like to have her talk about. That gesture seems to be a significant part of the Wilson magic. Besides an obvious professional competence with light and background and color, even black and white color, Matika defers to her subjects with palpable empathy.
So be prepared to look and look at these subjects gathered from all points of the Native American compass as Matika flies around the U.S. in a van she calls “Big Girl.”
And this being the Radcliffe Institute, you are graciously invited to advance your own understanding of our history, told differently, with workshops, seminars, lectures and conferences for the length of this exhibition.
Want more? Matika tells the small group of press, just as we’re about to leave, that she really needs interns, videographers, etc. to van around with her in a soon to be expanded “Big Girl.”
I realize that I must get back to my writing desk while realizing also that Matika’s project is a ‘vision quest’ for the present, sorely needed.
(“Matika Wilbur: Seeds of Culture: The Portraits and Stories of Native American Women” continues through May 28 at the Johnson-Kulukundis Family Gallery of Byerly Hall at Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, 8 Garden St., Radcliffe Yard, Cambridge, Mass. The gallery is Monday through Saturday from noon to 5 p.m.)