John Willis: Mni Wiconi, Honoring the Water Protectors

Exhibition: February 1 – 25, 2018
Reception: Friday, February 2nd, 5:30 to 8:30pm

From the Artist:
As a person of Eastern European decent, I never knew my family’s heritage other than to say I was Jewish American growing up in suburbia. I’d always been taught we are all the same, Americans coming from the cultural melting pot.

For over twenty-five years now, I have been welcomed into the community of the Oglala Lakota Tribe on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. I’ve felt continually humbled by the traditions of the Oglala Lakota people whom greet me with openness, and one of their most sacred values generosity. 

Recently in 2016, I spent eight weeks over multiple trips at the Oceti Sakowin Camp (Camp of the Seven Council Fires) in North Dakota just above the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. There I contributed my time witnessing and assisting the camp media group, participating in the Indigenous led prayerful movement against the Dakota Access Pipe Line. The project here, along with other on-going work I’ve made over the years, attempts to look at the inequality the indigenous people live within their own homeland metaphorically questioning what I see as our society’s skewed values, while also recognizing how much of value we all can learn from indigenous traditions.

“Photography provides me with a visual tool for exploration and communication. The ways we communicate with each other and the world around us have always been major points of interest and contention throughout my life (in addition to photography I have studied psychology and education). Because I choose to represent my observations about the world in images rather than in written essays, I have used photography in a variety of ways. Not only do I make my own images, but I help others make their own as well. I have spent much of my life teaching photography in diverse settings. I have taught all age groups, from first-graders to nursing-home residents. I am currently the full-time photography professor at Marlboro College, and I am the co-founder of The In-Sight Photography Project, and its Exposures Cross Cultural Youth Program, a non-profit program that teaches photography to adolescents regardless of their ability to pay.”


Selections from the Series: