The experience of working with Matika was one I haven't felt before. I've always loved to be in front of cameras - I remember jumping up and down in glee and turning into a pseudo TV show host when I came home at 14 to see my sister holding a camcorder in her hands - but with performing in front of cameras professionally there often comes a pressure to "get things right," a mentality that can send any artist down a path of self-destruction. For me, it's cathartic to get in front of a camera and find myself living in the moment, surrendering the ego to make way for the true self.
Anyone who gets in front of cameras regularly can tell you that the person behind the camera, guiding you and capturing the moment, is one of the most important ingredients in the chemistry of a photoshoot. It takes a particular kind of individual to get you to be yourself in front of a camera; Matika Wilbur is one of those individuals.
As I sat with her at the kitchen island of her home, I was gently prodded by inspiration and reminded about what it takes to be an artist. She let me sit in with her as she perused sleeves of prints, selecting those that would be presented at her next show. I watched. I learned. I admired. Matika not only taught me new skills about vision, but I could see that hers was something attained through years of dedication to her education and resilience through peer criticism in her studies, which adds to the magic of her process.
It's not everyday that a subject of photography gets to sit with and learn about the conduit behind the lens. It's not everyday that one sees the dedication, commitment, and vulnerability of someone who is bringing life and words to an image that has been stereotyped and denigrated ad nauseam since European contact; the image of Native America.
Many of us want success - to experience the palpable joy of fulfilling our dreams - but most aren't willing to sacrifice the time and energy to commit to that dream. It's really neither here nor there, for everyone has the right to choose their own path. But there's something to be said about the ones who endure in pursuing their vision. There's something to be said about the work ethic that Matika has inherited and maintained throughout her life.
The current generation is one referred to as the "7th generation," a generation that was prophesied about by many great Native Chiefs and visionaries of centuries past. But we did not understand fully the turbulent strife of the dance between two worlds: somehow surviving and thriving in the guilt ridden Western culture that persistently ignores the existence of Native people; while also given the responsibility of carrying on the traditions and culture of our Native ancestors amidst the generational trauma of our own people.
Matika exudes the capability of doing this dance by not only living the versatile life of an artist, but by carrying on traditions and doing work for Native people that fundamentally shifts the paradigm regarding Native American people. Recently, Matika was the recipient of a $157,000 grant from the Surdna Foundation; the largest grant given to the 15 recipients selected from 1000 applicants. But in my eyes, Matika's vision of seeing Native American people in their true light takes precedence over a dollar figure; although it could not be brought to fruition without support from said dollar figure.
"Indians chase the vision, white men chase the dollar." -Lame Deer
For more information on Matika Wilbur of Project 562, visit: www.project562.com