Will Wilson (Citizen of the Navajo Nation) is a photographer and visual artist whose work focuses on transforming Indigenous art practices with technology to expand the possibilities of contemporary Native art. His photographic images often intersect Indigenous knowledge and practices that re-imagine who we are as Native people in art and imagery. While his weavings share the geometry of his Diné ancestors, his designs are fused with modern technology in a style that Wilson describes as “trans-customary,” or customary designs that make traditional art innovative.
Wilson was selected as part of the 2018 Native Arts and Cultures Foundation (NACF) Mentor Artist Fellowship cohort to work alongside apprentice Samantha Tracy (Diné) for one year. During the fellowship year, Wilson and Tracy have been developing a process for producing beaded textiles in the style of a Diné rug. The process has included photographing and digitizing a weaving made by Tracy’s grandmother, Bessie Lewis, then recreating the pattern into a beaded weaving using software that Wilson co-developed for a past mural project.
On a recent visit to Santa Fe, NACF staff had a chance to speak with Wilson and Tracy about their project, and the NACF Mentor Artist Fellowship program. Wilson explained that the mentorship program has afforded him the time and resources to focus on a project in partnership with Tracy. He added that the work is “a collaboration as much as it is a mentorship.” Additionally, Wilson and Tracy have been collaborating with Erica Lord (Athabaskan/Iñupiaq), whose Burden Strap weavings were an inspiration for Wilson’s glass textile pieces. Using a similar glass bead weaving process, Lord’s Burden Strap is a microarray analysis pattern of the genetic markers of diabetes.
As part of the Mentor Artist Fellowship program, Wilson and Tracy will display their joint project upon completion. Their hope is to take it back to their community on the Navajo Nation, and to see it in a national museum as well.