#CANADASCENE: Anishinabekwe @CanadasNAC #Ottawa gathers #Indigenous singers ShoShona Kish, Tanya Tagaq, Amanda Rheaume and more

ShoShona Kish. Image provided by the National Arts Centre.

Indigenous female artists perform at the National Arts Centre for Canada Scene.

This coming Saturday ShoShona Kish of the JUNO Award-winning band Digging Roots will be performing as part of an intimate evening with other Indigenous female artists. Also on the bill are Tanya Tagaq, Amanda Rheaume, Sandy Scofield, Iskwé, and Moe Clark.

From the NAC website:

ShoShona Kish, one half of the duo that fronts JUNO Award-winning band Digging Roots, has invited five of Canada’s most accomplished female Indigenous artists for Anishinabekwe, an unforgettable evening of music and musical storytelling, backed by musical powerhouse Digging Roots.

Polaris Prize-winner Tanya Tagaq is an Inuit throat singer and provocateur who creates music like almost nothing else in the world. From Ottawa, Canadian Folk Music Award winner and JUNO nominee Amanda Rheaume delivers her unique blend of folk-country-pop with a soulful ability to translate personal stories into song.

Sandy Scofield is a multiple award-winning Métis composer, musician, and singer from the Saulteaux and Cree Nations who hails from four generations of fiddlers, singers, and musicians. Singer-songwriter Iskwé draws on her Cree/Dene and Irish roots to produce a sound filled with booming bass lines and heavy beats, defining her distinctive offering of alternative RnB/TripHop. And Métis artist Moe Clark is a musical chameleon who creates sonic landscapes that pull from the soul, gospel, folk, and spoken word genres.

WHEN: Saturday, June 21 4:30 and 5:00 pm
WHERE: Babs Asper Theatre at the National Arts Centre, Ottawa

Click here to purchase tickets.

View the full Canada Scene line-up here.

Tanya Tagaq. Image provided by the National Arts Centre. 
Moe Clark. Image provided by the National Arts Centre.
Iskwé. Image provided by the National Arts Centre.

#OTTAWA TOMORROW: The Canadian Film Institute hosts the amazing Alanis Obomsawin

The CANADIAN MASTERS Series welcomes Abenaki filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin.

This week NFB documentary filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin will be visiting Ottawa as part of the CANADIAN MASTERS series presented by the Canadian Film Institute in collaboration with Carleton University’s School For Studies In Art and Culture: Film Studies.

The Canadian Film Institute’s Canadian Masters series is an annual celebration of excellence in Canadian filmmaking, featuring extensive onstage interviews, special screenings, and audience discussions with some of the greatest names in Canadian film history. In our 2016-2017 inaugural season, we are honoured to present three extraordinary Canadian masters of the moving image: Atom Egoyan (November), Alanis Obomsawin (January), and Guy Maddin (March). more about the CFI

Alanis Obomsawin, OC, is filmmaker, singer, artist, storyteller of Abenaki descent (born 31 August 1932 near Lebanon, New Hampshire). One of Canada’s most distinguished documentary filmmakers, Alanis Obomsawin began her career as a professional singer and storyteller before joining the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) in 1967.

Her award-winning films address the struggles of Aboriginal peoples in Canada from their perspective, giving prominence to voices that have long fallen on deaf ears. An Officer of the Order of Canada, she has received multiple Governor General’s Awards, lifetime achievement awards and honorary degrees. (The Canadian Encyclopedia)

THURSDAY, JANUARY 26 – Alanis Obomsawin in Person: The Interview

7:30 – 9:30 pm
Arts Court Theatre, 2nd Floor of Arts Court, 2 Daly Avenue, Ottawa
$15 (+HST) Tickets available at the door and on sale here
Seating for the interview on January 26th is limited. Get your tickets early!
More info here

FRIDAY, JANUARY 27 – Screening of “We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice” with Alanis Obomsawin in Attendance

7 – 10 pm (doors open at 6:30 pm)
Theatre at Richcraft Hall (Formerly the River Building)
More info here


ALEX & ALMA: Alex Colville Retrospective closing this weekend in Toronto & Alma Duncan next weekend in Ottawa

Alex Colville was never an artist I considered as an interest. The experience of viewing the Art Gallery of Ontario’s current retrospective of his work left me considering otherwise.

Alma Duncan was never an artist I even knew to consider but her painting Young Black Girl (1940) is one of my favourites in the AGO’s collection. I had no knowledge of Alma at the time but I was drawn to the demure painting that used to hang in the round room to the right of the Old Masters Collection along with a Picasso from his Blue Period, and a pulsating Kees van Dongen. The room held a rotation of portraits and this enigmatic and somber piece made me return again and again.

Now the painting hangs at the Ottawa Art Gallery for one more week. It is positioned on the wall that intersects Alma’s bold self-portraits that greet me with a commanding series of stares.

There are many ways to conceptually enter into both the Alma and Alex exhibits but my pathway into understanding their work more deeply is through the relationships that they each present.

ALMA DUNCAN: The relationship one has with oneself. 

Alma’s portraits of herself are entirely different than my introduction to her work through her subject of the black girl who sits slightly askew and closed off from the viewer. In each painting Alma positions herself squarely, looking beyond the frame to her audience. It’s as if she is daring those who might question her authority as an artist. She began painting at a time when the art world offered little opportunity for female intervention into male dominated spaces. Even as she paints her young self with braids bound at their ends with red bows (Self-Portrait with Braids, 1940) there is a clear message she sends as she stands affirming her right to participate. She paints herself wearing a pair of trousers instead of a skirt. When I encounter this row of paintings with such a strong female presence my thought is that I am disappointed that it took this long for me to find her.

In the main room, behind one dividing wall, are her renderings of mines and the machinery of industry from her time spent documenting a developing Canada focused on trade and resources; on the other side abstracted sketches of grass and landscapes softened with snow. We can see how far she travelled in her journey to explore her visual language but its when I enter the second room and experience the blood red wall upon which her Woman Series (1965) is hung that I have a longing accompanied by an intense regret that my younger self didn’t experience these at an earlier moment in my own odyssey.

I would have loved to have experienced her boldness in my youth when looking for creative and conceptual heros sheros. The clean cut demarcation between the black and the white is not set in opposition to each other but rather as a compliment from one to the other.

They are magnificent.

As I come closer I sense a movement in the shimmering of the strokes. It reminds me of the shadowy depictions of the Shroud of Turin also known as the Shroud of Christ. But this analogy is not quite right. Rather than a covering used for the dead I realize it reminds me more of a vibrating sonogram where you can detect a pulse, a heart beat, a life. This is why I find them so magnetic because as I walk towards a particulate one that draws me close I see the defining outline of a woman’s torso reflected upon itself emerging from the inky deep. Although she moves from realism in her early work to this period of experimentation with abstraction in the 60s the strength and intensity of that young woman with the braids and red bows is the anchoring attribute we find repeated here.

Alma’s work may visually change, flux and bend but the explorative relationship she has with herself as a female artist is what moves me. It’s why I find myself coming back to this newly discovered piece over and over again not wanting to say good-bye.

ALEX COLVILLE: The relationship one has with their lover and life partner.

When I am at the Alex Colville show its also a female relationship that grounds me into the exhibit. I make a few laps around the rooms, weaving in and out of the crowd, to finally sit down somewhere mid-point and watch a short film. The video is narrated by Alex’s daughter Ann Kitz and in a few short minutes she poignantly shares with us the timeline of her parents lifetime of love – a 70 year excursion that ends the way it began – together. Alex died just weeks after his wife’s passing.

Exploration by going deep instead of wide.  

After experiencing World War II in his role as a war artist and documenting the liberation at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp it seemed like his marriage, which took place right before he left for war, became the stabilizing factor upon which he was able to build a career alongside raising a healthy family. The partnership with his wife, Rhoda, also an artist, gave him a solid foundation after experiencing the uprooting tension of conflict.

It was through this relationship Alex was able to arrive at both his signature technique and his recognizable aesthetic. Of the painting Nude and Dummy (1950) seen below he reflects that this was when he accomplished what he called his “first good painting.” From this piece we are able to see what is about to come down the road.

His visual journey doesn’t traverse the same distance as Alma’s trajectories. His way of rendering his compositions remains uniform throughout his career. He doesn’t become driven to aesthetic extremes; his loyalty to his signature style allows a deeper exploration into the psychological subtleties of the human condition. Alex’s work was about looking and then re-looking at a location or a person you know so well to find both the consistencies and the anomalies that open up a contemplative space.  He was quoted as saying that “only by living in a little place for a long time can one build up a sort of extensive body of complex knowledge and understanding of what goes on.”

Alex is known for his compositions that convey foreboding messages of something disruptive beyond the horizon but in seeing many of the his works based on Rhoda there is also an undeniably playful spirit that comes through these images of this woman, his wife. We see her at leisure with the figure we can interpret as Alex in the background close enough to be at her call but far enough as to not disturb her relaxation; we see her with her pets and her children and playing the piano while her aging husband sits close by. Over their lifetime Alex portrays her nude and exposed but accessible in her humanness, flaws not banished for the sake of the artist reflecting a perfected muse. She is real and charming, a crisp outline of paint separates her from the background but because we never fully see her face this woman still manages to maintain complexity surrounded by mystery.

Her head is lost inside of a canoe that she portages to another place; she stands with acceptance, a body shaped by age, in front of the old grandfather clock in their home. The image I come to love the most is of Rhoda defiantly naked and flipping the perspective of the world upside down, the cat as a casual witness. I feel it illustrates the adoration Alex had for this woman, at once his muse and the mother of his children. I can sense a chuckle from him and hear laughter from her as she gingerly makes her way down to plant her feet back on the ground. Headstand (1982) becomes the image that I end up visiting again and gain and the one final time to say farewell as the show closes its doors.

Thanks to the AGO & the OAG for providing an opportunity to view the life and work of two important Canadian artists.

Alex Colville closes today Sunday, January 4 at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto.
Alma: The Life and Art of Alma Duncan (1917 – 2004) closes Sunday, January 11 at the Ottawa Art Gallery, Ottawa.

All above images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag. 


U ROCK & I ROCK: And the Continued Tale of Why the Dove Campaign Pissed Me Off Part 2

Female toddler in yellow outfit playing on floor with plastic container.
Me in 1971. This photo captures what I hope still comes through as an adult – a happy, playful, open soul. 

DISCLAIMER: My critique is not with the women featured in the newest Dove Campaign. I appreciate that they demonstrated vulnerability in opening themselves up as they did. If this was a documentary presented by an independent female filmmaker with opportunities for productive dialogue I would have a different opinion – but consider the source.

“Only 4% of women worldwide consider themselves beautiful.”

Let me begin by saying I don’t buy that stat!

When Dove first came out with their “Campaign for Real Beauty” in 2004, although in big agreement that there needed to be more diversity in beauty advertising, I wasn’t buying into their feel good message because their products contain chemicals that are known to be toxic, carcinogenic and damaging to a woman’s body and health.

Years ago I owned a green cleaning business. I researched deep into Sick Building Syndrome and how what were using to decorate and clean our homes with was making the inside of our buildings more polluted than the LA freeway at rush hour. The more I researched the sicker I felt at the incredible hole we were digging ourselves into. My research also included personal hygiene products. There and then I simplified – baking soda, vinegar and tea tree to keep my house clean; organic coconut or olive oil and glycerin soap for my beauty routine with the occasional indulgence of vegan body cream when the funds allowed.

Because of a serious car accident my business ended shortly before it got off the ground but I never let go of what I learned and the knowledge I gained allowed me to become more informed as well as critical to brand brainwashing.

So yes, I thought Dove, owned by Unilever, was hypocritical in its proselytizing about its love for women and its desire to promote healthier self-esteem while they sold products that encouraged us to slather our skin with some pretty unhealthy stuff.

I tuned Dove out – that is until the “You are more beautiful than you think” Campaign went viral and I could no longer ignore their damn brand.

I am tired to the bone of mixed messages and beauty campaigns that plug into female self-loathing.

When speaking to a friend just after watching the video my first critique was that despite their promotion of diversity the women featured are predominantly white – the opening scene begins with the thin legs of a young woman walking into a room. She is white, blonde, model proportions looking like the Nordic nemesis from my youth. Next scene – young, dark haired, thin, white woman. Next woman – white, blonde, middle-aged. Back to the dark haired woman shown walking with slender legs in skinny jeans, cute in a Charlotte Gainsbourgy kind of way. Another white woman appears…

More images of white women, many of them slender, young, attractive and fashionable with only brief seconds of non-white women and one black man slipped in, each with little to no dialogue.

My friend’s rant on her Facebook wall:

“The sad music with the message ‘you’re prettier than you think’. Because that’s all we are, right? That’s our only currency – being pretty. Tears of joy “I’m prettier than I thought!” This is feeding some gender bs that makes my blood boil.”

Yet again our self-worth is being bound to our appearance. When do we get released from that yoke?

One comment on her wall wrapped it up well:

“The main message is you should recognize your natural beauty and that you’re less fat than you think? I guess it’s a step up from other beauty ads, but it also ain’t really liberating.”

Self-deprecation is defined as the act of belittling or undervaluing oneself.

Thin, blue-eyed, short-nose used as positive descriptors and fat, dark circles, wrinkles as negative.

After our rant this blog post, by Jazz Brice, popped up on my feed:

Why Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” Video Makes Me Uncomfortable… and Kind of Makes Me Angry

She did the math on the diversity (or lack thereof).

“Out of 6:36 minutes of footage, people of color are onscreen for less than 10 seconds.”

Jazz’s post echoed much of what my friend and I discussed.

“Why are so many females I know having such a strong reaction to the sketches video, being moved to the point of tears? 

Because the message that we constantly receive is that girls are not valuable without beauty. 

Brave, strong, smart? Not enough. You have to be beautiful. And “beautiful” means something very specific, and very physical.”


She goes on to say:

“My primary problem with this Dove ad is that it’s not really challenging the message like it makes us feel like it is. It doesn’t really tell us that the definition of beauty is broader than we have been trained to think it is, and it doesn’t really tell us that fitting inside that definition isn’t the most important thing. It doesn’t really push back against the constant objectification of women. All it’s really saying is that you’re actually not quite as far off from the narrow definition as you might think that you are (if you look like the featured women).”


And like her I also felt unsettled by this woman’s words that wrapped up the commercial:

“I should be more grateful of my natural beauty. It impacts the choices and the friends we make, the jobs we go out for, the way we treat our children, it impacts everything. It couldn’t be more critical to your happiness.”

Who was the focus group for this marketing campaign? A panel of J Crew models?

As I watched the clip for a second time while writing this post it finally hit me what I was unable to put my finger on before. Dove, for all its “movement marketing“, has aligned itself not with the hopeful “beauty-is-all-encompassing” message. What it has aligned itself with is the white aesthetic notions of the dominant culture and at the same time plugged into the culture of shame regarding the body, culturally sanctioned self-deprecation and privileged guilt regarding fat that can only surface in a capitalist system where constant consumption is the goal. You will not find people starving themselves to be thin where there is scarcity of food. You will not find people complaining about their crows’ feet in places where all-inclusive vacations to the sunny South aren’t the norm. Pinge. Burge. Guilt. Shame. But don’t forget you are more beautiful than you think which makes you worthier than you know (to the marketplace).

That folks…is a white thing!

I will bet that the real reason they didn’t use more non-white women was because the dialogue would not be to the level of self-deprecation for the sound bites they required. Who better to perpetuate the message of shame (cue tears of guilt for saying bad things about yourself) and take the scolding that you are not appreciating the natural beauty you really have (but we aren’t going to free you from that nagging notion that you are somehow not enough).

Growing up in this culture I know it well. Putting down one’s body and lamenting over appearance became ritualized behaviour upon leaving the innocence of adolescence and a rite of passage for moving onward into womanhood. Not only was it accepted it was expected. Walk into any women’s change room at a mall on this continent and listen in on the conversations. Something has gone terribly wrong.

Thanks Dove for nothing…but slick marketing; soft shots of white loft spaces with white girls, camera pans of skinny legs, predictable (read sterile) décor and manipulating music. This is the Forrest Gump of marketing campaigns.

To criticize the miracle my body is and the vehicle it gives me to be present in this world is not something I am willing to partake in.

It took time for my Mediterranean-featured self to come to terms with my looks but when I stepped out of this culture for the first time I encountered non-North American aesthetics of beauty that were less binding then the ones I was experiencing back at home. Upon returning, I started the process of deconstructing the anxiety the advertising had created in me. By the time I accepted my own appearance and decided I actually loved my features I also realized that that journey brought me to a place where I found my outward appearance mattered less than I thought. It took a car accident and wondering if I would ever be able to walk again without pain to love my body for its ability to heal, be grateful for that and to understand I do stand in a place of privilege.

I will keep my lop-sided laugh lines as to me they are proof that I smile often and wink with my left eye as I do. 😉

So I declare it here – I am not one of the 4%.

I am beautiful for the same reasons I see beauty in the other women who are in my life and who I value for what they offer:

Vibrancy. An engaging smile that says – “I am accessible, let’s have a chat.”

Intelligence. A way of looking at the world with a discerning mind so when something isn’t working and they have the skill set to make a change they go after it with gusto and suggesting – “Maybe our skill set can be combined? Let’s collaborate”

Playfulness. Even though they question the world around them they don’t lose that child inside that still believes in magic, serendipity, surprises, and unexpected places just around the corner – “Let’s go explore together sometime.”

Compassion. They are not going to just walk by someone who is visibly hurting. They will take the time to stop and listen. Saying – “If you ever need help let me know.”

Empathy. Fundamentally believing that we are connected and if we don’t acknowledge the stories of others we lose the chance to enrich our own experience as a human being. They are the type of women to say – “Maybe there is something in my story that will strengthen and inspire a part of you. I am not afraid to open up and share.”

I really hope the reactions to this campaign will move women to collectively to say enough is enough. To not echo these words:

It (outward appearance) couldn’t be more critical to your happiness.”

But rather:

“It’s nice but not a necessity to defining my value.”

Dark haired woman smiling in mirror as she takes a photograph of herself. Me at 42 years old. Sweaty with no makeup covering the ‘dark circles’ under my eyes, unthreaded brows and hair askew but happy after a spring afternoon spent outside and quite digging how healthy I look!




Some more antidotes to the Dove Campaign!

Brené Brown’s Ted Talk on “The Power of Vulnerability”

Vulnerability – where real beauty lies.

They (people who have a deep sense that they are worthy of love and belonging) believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful. They didn’t talk about vulnerability being comfortable nor did they talk about it being excruciating… they just talked about it being necessary. They talked about the willingness to say I love you first, the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees…the willing[ness] to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out. They thought this was fundamental”

Thandie Newton’s Ted Talk on “Embracing Otherness, Embracing Myself”

Thinking beyond the value of self-worth to the value of oneness.

“I still believed my self was all I was. I still valued self-worth above all other worth and what was there to suggest otherwise. We’ve created entire value systems and a physical reality to support the worth of self. Look at the industry for self image and the jobs it creates the revenue it turns over. We’d be right in assuming that the self is an actual living thing. But it is not. It‘s a projection that our clever brains create in order to cheat ourselves from the reality of death. But there is something that can give the self ultimate and infinite connection and that thing is oneness, our essence. The self’s struggle for authenticity and definition will never end unless it is connected to its creator, to you, and to me and that can happen with awareness – awareness of the reality of oneness and the projection of self-hood.”

Some more opinions on the Dove Sketches Campaign:

Globe & Mail
Dove has it wrong. It’s probably better not to think about your looks by Adriana Barton

The Toronto Star
Dove Sketches video manipulates our emotions by Tracy Nesdoly

The National Post
A Cultured Life: Dove’s latest ‘Real Beauty’ ads are about selling soap, but they raise debate over body image, too by Maryam Siddiqi

The Huffington Post
Why Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” Video Makes Me Uncomfortable… and Kind of Makes Me Angry by Jazz Brice

The Problem With Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches Campaign by Kate Fridkis

Who Could Benefit from the Dove Real Beauty Sketch Campaign? Men.  By Sheila Moeschen

Dove’s ‘Real Beauty Sketches’ Ad Campaign Tells Women ‘You’re More Beautiful Than You Think’ (VIDEO) by Emma Gray

Ladies: Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” Are More Condescending Than You Think by Rondi Adamson

Dove, Your ‘Sketches’ Idea Is More Beautiful Than Your Critics Think by Will Burns