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#ArtistatCB: Will Wilson

At Crystal Bridges, we’re committed to exploring the unfolding story of America. Through the 2014 State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now exhibition, the museum introduced 102 artists who live and work in communities all over the US. We’re continuing that effort in 2018 through new installations and exhibitions.

#ArtistatCB provides a window into the lives and studios of artists, who help us connect to the issues of our time in thought-provoking and inspiring ways.

“[Edward] Curtis created the most comprehensive archive of indigenous North Americans, and now contemporary artists want to take that authority back and create archives of who they believe themselves to be.”

– Will Wilson

Wilson’s work is on view now at Crystal Bridges in the free, focus exhibition In Conversation: Will Wilson and Edward Curtis.

Will Wilson (Diné)

Between 1907 and 1930, Edward Sheriff Curtis traveled throughout the lands west of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers to document traditions and cultures of Native American peoples. Curtis posed his sitters and manipulated his photographs to eliminate evidence of modern life, creating idealized images of Native peoples frozen in time—an image that continues to define Native people today.

Will Wilson (Diné) resumes the documentary mission of Curtis from a twenty-first century Indigenous viewpoint. Wilson’s photographs ask us to think critically about how Native peoples have been portrayed in photography over time.

Wilson spent his formative years living in the Navajo Nation. The photographs in this gallery are part of Wilson’s “Critical Indigenous Photographic Exchange” project. For the project, Wilson employs a wet-plate collodion photographic technique, based on a nineteenth-century method that involves exposing and then developing a plate that has been coated in light-sensitive chemicals. Wilson collaborates with his sitters, who determine the pose, clothing, props, and presentation in the photograph. As a gesture of reciprocity, Wilson gives the sitters the original photograph, while retaining the right to print and use scans for artistic purposes. Wilson’s photographs work toward a re-imagined vision of Native people, fully grounded in the present.

In the focus exhibition, Wilson (Diné) presents an authentic, twenty-first century depiction of Indigenous culture through his photography, even allowing his subjects to choose the pose, clothing, props, and context of each photograph. The photographs of Wilson and Curtis in conversation offer a chance to see different depictions of Native peoples and to think critically about how they have been portrayed in photography over the past century.

Will Wilson, “Will Wilson, citizen of the Navajo Nation, trans-customary Diné artist, Critical Indigenous,” Photographic Exchange, Denver Art Museum, 2013 Archival pigment print from wet plate collodion scan 22 × 17 in. Courtesy of the artist.

The exhibition is on view through February 2019. Learn more here.

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