John Willis: House/Home, A Work in Progress

September 2 - October 23, 2016

John Willis began creating work for the new series House/Home, A Work in Progress in an effort to document an appalling act perpetrated by the United States government upon its own citizens. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) sent prefabricated trailers to New Orleans to replace lost housing. The units later proved to contain toxic levels of formaldehyde and were deemed too poisonous for habitation. FEMA reclaimed the trailers and sold them to Native Americans, including Oglala Sioux families on the Pine Ridge Reservation, for $3,000 each—the cost of shipping. Such false charity recalls a litany of abuses heaped upon Native Americans over the years, including Lord Jeffery Amherst’s eighteenth-century “gift” to tribal chiefs of smallpox-infested blankets.

Willis’ photographs record the full range of human experience—the beauty and desolation of the landscape, quiet moments of introspection, family groupings, communal rituals, and rites of passage. Those included here offer a visual meditation on core beliefs concerning house as home, the binding of community, historical injustices rippling through generations, economic disparity, and human dignity. By weaving images from Vermont and New England into the series, Willis forces us to grapple with the uncomfortable reality of substandard housing and economic inequality not just on reservation lands but in our own communities.

— Mara Williams, Chief Curator

As I travel across the country and internationally, I am struck by the pervasiveness of economic inequality—a condition that seems to be worsening. For nearly 25 years I have closely observed the people of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and more recently the Navajo Nation in Arizona. I am deeply troubled by the injustices experienced by indigenous tribes.

The images in this exhibit are meant to draw attention to the plight of Native people in the United States, and how their circumstances reflect the hypocrisy and poor ethical choices of our society in general. I encourage viewers to consider these images a metaphor for our nation, and to engage in a dialogue about the values we claim to uphold and what they really mean.

— John Willis

This exhibit is supported in part by a grant from the Vermont Arts Council.


Photo Gallery


September 2, Friday, 5:30 p.m. – Opening Reception during Gallery Walk
September 15, Thursday, 7 p.m. – Artist Talk: John Willis