KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A new exhibit at the McClung Museum that opened in August is showcasing Native American representation through photography.
The exhibit features 17 portraits by Navajo photographer Will Wilson. The portraits are from his “Critical Indigenous Photographic Exchange Project.” The collection explores the modern Native American representation while considering the lasting legacy and stereotypes drawn from historical images of indigenous peoples in North America.
Wilson was inspired by Edward Curtis, who was well-known for photographing Native people in the early 1900s. According to McClung Curtis’s work was the largest collection of photos of Native people up until Wilson picked up the mantle.
“Will’s vision is to kind of speak in dialogue with Edward Curtis. Edward Curtis’ photos were so ubiquitous and so romanticized and so idealized, it stripped away the independent identities of native people and kind of made them into these stereotypes. Whereas Mr. Wilson is showing people as they want to be seen and represented on their own terms,” said Katy Malone, manager of education and community engagement at the McClung Museum.
The exhibit will be open until December 2. It is free to visit the museum.
“This exhibit allows us to see just how rich people are in the contemporary world,” said Malone. “There’s also a chance to see how this art form can be expanded. It’s not just photography, it’s also incorporating an app that brings to photographs to life.”
The exhibit is just one part of the museum’s efforts to give Native communities a voice. The museum is collaborating with the four native nations with historic ties to Knox County for an upcoming exhibit called “A Sense of Indigenous Place“, which is set to open in early 2025. In 2022, the museum reimaged an exhibit to explain the repatriation, or return, of Native American Ancestral Remains and cultural items back to their proper cultural communities.