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Matika Wilbur is a photographer from the Swinomish-Tulalip tribe of the coastal lands of the place now called Washington State. Wilbur is also a photographer and educator and noticed there were very few empowering and celebratory images of contemporary Native People. In order to correct this lack of positive imagery and representation, she began a Kickstarter fund and raised enough money for the equipment and ability to drive all over Turtle Island (the land now called North America) in order to photograph heroic peoples representing all 562 tribes recognized by the U.S. Federal Government.

Too often when we present and describe Indigenous art and society, it is relegated to the past. This type of presentation can sometimes contribute to the act of Indigenous Erasure, and obscure the fact that contemporary Native culture and peoples are vibrant communities living all over the continent. Project 562 features portraits of contemporary Native Peoples who are making important contributions to science, art, culture, business, education, healthcare, politics, and resistance to oppression, right now.


Portraiture has been used by all peoples throughout history to document stories, identities, and communities. The SMC Barrett Art Gallery (Located at 11th and Arizona in Santa Monica) is proud to be exhibiting Matika Wilbur’s 562 Project during the entire 2022-23 academic year. For this assignment, you will visit the Barrett Art Gallery on your own time. Once there please choose a portrait from Matika Wilbur’s Project 562 Exhibition, take a picture of one of the portraits, and give a short description of the figure and how you believe the artist has empowered her subject. Then, choose or photograph a portrait of a figure that you find inspiring (it can be anyone, a historical figure, celebrity, family member, etc.) and explain how the artist has elevated their subject.



Orlando Begay, Dine Tribe

From the Gallery Exhibition Wall Text (I am reproducing for the sake of the example; you do not have to in your short essay):

“Orlando Begay, or OB, is an inspired Dine graphic designer and acclaimed Grass and Chicken Powwow Dancer. He speaks frankly about his manhood and his coming of age. “I grew up without a father figure, so when I got to the point where I transitioned from being a boy into manhood, I had to learn what masculinity was on my own. It’s hard these days- we don’t have the male role models we once did. A lot of us have lost our masculine energy through colonialism, brainwashing, and even the food we eat affecting our bodies, so in a way I feel like masculinity is a lost art form. Modern-day consumerism feeds off our insecurities, and people become victims to that and to the superficial. When we mature as men, there are things that happen to our energy, and our spirit changes. So I’d say to the youth: “Don’t be afraid of growth and aging. Embrace maturity like we used to. Age gracefully like we used to.” I know I’ve finally gotten to the point in my life where I feel at peace. It’s a gift of growing into maturity, I’ve found happiness from within, rather than from outside myself.


This photograph seeks to empower and elevate the subject in a variety of ways, both through formal composition and technique, as well as symbolism. The subject is positioned standing along the central axis of the composition, dividing the composition into an approximate symmetry that is grounded, stable, and balanced. The subject is positioned at a three-quarter turn and at eye level with the viewer, suggesting personal engagement with the figure. The subject gazes stoically at the viewer, expressing a calm and knowing persona. He is photographed in a library, which again emphasizes the theme and connection between knowledge, balance, and power. The one-point linear perspective created by the orthogonal of the bookshelf receding into a vanishing point located somewhere behind the figure’s face, drawing further attention to his piercing gaze outward toward the viewer. The subject wears traditional regalia for men of the Dine Tribe, thus connecting the themes of his testimonial to the image: knowledge of our heritage, culture, and traditions can help us understand ourselves (in Orlando’s case, his masculinity) in deeper and more meaningful ways.



Portrait of the “Greatest Art Historian of All Time”, Linda Nochlin, photographed by Matthew Begun, circa 2012

This is a portrait of my friend, mentor, and dissertation adviser Linda Nochlin. I have had many great teachers who have changed my life, but Linda was my fairy godmother. She passed at the age of eighty-six in 2017, and her memory and spirit remain with me. In 1971 she wrote the essay “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” and changed the lens through which we practice and view the discipline of art history. Introducing feminism as a way to deconstruct the oppressive and patriarchal nature of the field, she went on to critique structures of authoritarian politics and regressive regimes through her critiques of 19th-century French Art. She not only taught me how to look at paintings and advocate for myself as a member of the LGBTQ+ community but also taught me what it means to be joyful. Her approach to life was one of constant wonder, and she behaved as a curious child who was always thrilled to be learning new things. I will never forget the unconditional love that Linda gave me freely and abundantly, in many ways she saved my life. I still weep with joy and gratitude every time I see her picture, I was lucky to be her student.

In this portrait, Linda is posed in front of a painted portrait of herself and her second husband (who passed in 1992), by the great portrait painter Philp Perlstein in 1968. Linda stands firmly in the center of the composition, striking the “Thinkers Pose” as she smiles at the viewer. She turns only her head to a slight angle and smiles at the viewer as if she has some interesting lesson to impart. The bold red shirt she wears contrasts with the cool blues of the background portrait and advances her toward the viewer. Since she stands in front of a painting of herself, she not only comments on her important position within the discipline of art history but also makes a wry comment on the joys and vicissitudes of aging.