2017 marked Canada 150 , Canada's 150th anniversary. While many took the opportunity to treat the occasion as one of celebration and economic boosts, not everyone was celebrating. It's quite likely that you saw #Resistance150 trending on social media last year. The horrific treatment of Indigenous people in Canada is well known, and that treatment still continues. Canadians often like to think that they're better than their American neighbours, while overlooking the problems in their own backyard. In the wake of two high profile cases many people are still shocked by the verdicts (an acquittal in the murder of Colten Boushie, a 22-year-old Cree man, and an acquittal in the death of Tina Fontaine, a 15-year-old Indigenous girl) while others are expressing anger, but not surprise.
University of Waterloo Art Gallery's timely show Sovereign Acts is in its last week. The show is curated by Wanda Nanibush and organized and circulated by the Art Museum at the University of Toronto, with the support of the Leonard and Bina Ellen Art Gallery.
The history of Indigenous Peoples performing cultural dances and practices for international and colonial audiences is an important part of Indigenous art generally, and performance art specifically. The Indigenous performers known as ‘Indians’ faced the conundrum of maintaining traditional cultural practices by performing them on stage while also having that performance fulfill the desires of a colonial imaginary. In Sovereign Acts, the artists Rebecca Belmore, Lori Blondeau, Dayna Danger, James Luna, Shelley Niro, Adrian Stimson, and Jeff Thomas, contend with the legacy of colonial representations. Drawing on the depiction of the imaginary Indian–the ahistorical, pre-contact 'primitivism' in popular and mass culture–they recover and construct new ways of performing the complexity of Indigenous cultures for a contemporary art audience. Their work returns to the multi-leveled history of ‘Performing Indian’ to recuperate the erased and objectified performer as an ancestor, an artist, and an Indigenous subject.
A selection of visual and performance artist Adrian Stimson's photos and videos performing as alter-egos Buffalo Boy and Shaman Exterminator are on display. Stimson recently received the Governor General's Award in Visual and Media Arts. Each year the awards honour up to 7 artists for their artistic achievements and 1 person for his or her outstanding contribution to contemporary visual and/or media arts. The award winners receive a medallion and a cash prize of $25,000 each. The GGArts awards are part of the Canada Council’s suite of 39+ prizes recognizing excellence in the arts.
Artist and part time gallery staff Tee Kundu told me that they were glad that the gallery was showing this exhibition as they feel that appropriate representation can be found lacking in institutional settings. They expressed gratitude that they've been able to learn from the artists and curators. Professors have brought their classes to see the show and have students engage with Indigenous stories outside of texts and readings and these groups always notice different things, often things that Kundu hadn't noticed when they first saw the piece. Kundu's favourite visitor story was about a man who came by on a whim. He walked around and they asked him how he was doing and he said he noticed that Rebecca Belmore's piece mentions the Mi'kmaw peoples. His wife and kids were Mi'kmaw as well, so he wanted to bring them to the show. He left with the program guide with the contact information.
I missed the opening of the show but am going to get out to see it in this final week. Have you been? Please share your thoughts about the exhibition.
Exhibition continues to Saturday March 10, 2018.
Free and open to the public
Story by Glodeane Brown
Photo provided by UWAG
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