William Wilson’s work focuses primarily on the Navajo people and their relation to the land. His large scale photographs illustrate Native Americans’ vexed relationship to an environment torn apart by industrial intrusion.
Born in San Francisco, Wilson (Diné) is an accomplished photographer who grew up in the Navajo Nation. He earned an MFA in Photography from the University of New Mexico in 2002 and a BA in Studio Art and Art History at Oberlin College in 1993. Through various methods of photography, he explores major themes such as environmental stewardship, cultural preservation and resilience. His art interjects these themes with Indigenous perspectives, bringing them to the forefront of discussions about identity and one’s relationship with the world around them. Not only has he engaged in critical discussions through art, but he’s engaged in critical discussions about contemporary Native art. Wilson acted as Project Manager and contributor for the contemporary Native arts anthology, Manifestations: New Native Art Criticism, an overview of 60 working Native artists working in the United States, published in 2011. The book was crafted out of the National Vision Project at the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts and engaged 21 Native scholars concerning contemporary Native arts practice.
With his National Artist Fellowship from Native Arts and Cultures Foundation, he continued creating and adding to his body of work called Auto Immune Response (AIR). The project follows the story of a Diné man living in a post-apocalyptic world, focusing on his unrealistic relationship with the beautiful but toxic environment he finds himself in. The protagonist of these photographs wonders through the wasteland, wondering how the land became so toxic and how he will continue to survive. Wilson describes the series as “an allegorical investigation of the extraordinarily rapid transformation of Indigenous lifeways, the disease it has caused, and strategies of response that enable cultural survival.” With Fellowship funds, he traveled back to his home and had the opportunity to discuss the power of art and expression with his community. He also visited the four sacred mountains of the Diné people, a major source of inspiration for this project.
While working on AIR, Wilson was granted the opportunity to collaborate with the Denver Botanical Gardens in Denver, Colorado, as well as the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. At both locations, he installed a hogan greenhouse that grew only Indigenous food plants, called the Auto Immune Response Research Facility, also called AIR LAB. Along with these installations, large scale photographs from his AIR series were featured, illustrating the protagonist’s search for vital resources in the wasteland.
NACF is proud to support artists like Wilson, who continue to use creative mediums not only to explore deep and complex issues, but to inspire others to join in the discussion.