COUNTER-MAPPING THE CITY TREATY: Taking Indigeneity to the Streets

What’s in a name.

Looking at the typography of a city through an Indigenous lens can fracture what we think we know. Chorography is the act of “describing or mapping a region.” The chorography of our cities effectively maps multiculturalism but underneath the Little Italys and Chinatowns original place markers have been trampled under the foot of many a newcomer.

Recent headlines have pointed to Winnipeg as being one of the most racist cities in Canada. For the urban Indigenous population in Winnipeg the city, whose name is derived from the Cree word win-nipi, is marked with anxiety. Marvin Francis was a playwright, author, visual artist and poet from Heart Lake First Nation and his experience of living on the “Urban Rez,” as he referred to Winnipeg, formed itself into a book titled City Treaty: a long Poem.

I was being followed
so I took my usual back alley route
trash can trails
make ’em get their feet dirty
but it was no use
you cannot shake a clown
that mask sees all

we begin the treaty project
we needed money  we  wrote
on the back maize    flake boxes     expensive
the clown
knows ever since sky     ripples
mingles clown     city native
write new treaty     cost heap big money
the clown surveys post/city/modern/after treaty/after

lawyer = life

and finds
the way
to finance
this project

finds the reality:

As a teenager, moving off his reserve to the city, Marvin developed a complex relationship with Winnipeg.

“The urban Aboriginal experience is dependent upon the circumstances of the individual, and speaking in general terms is always dangerous, but I think it is a fair statement that, for the average Native who comes from the Rez, the city contains a spectrum that ranges from new possibilities to that social monster, crack.” Read more…

Counter-mapping Canada. 

It’s hard to know where you are standing when the original place markers become impossible to find. But they are still there for those who are tenacious enough to search. Sometimes names hint at the histories that lay just below the surface of maps made for our ‘modern’ times. 

Toronto, Ontario

tkaronto (Kanien’kehake), onitariio (Wyandot)

Where the trees are standing in the water, the beautiful lake

Counter-mapping is a term used to refer to the intentional use of mapping methodology and technology such as GIS, cartography and geomatics to make visible how dominant power systems have used maps as a way to assert control over territories often for the purpose of resource extraction and/or settlement.

In Canada, oral histories are now considered an important part of counter-mapping and testimonies of the historical use of that land by Indigenous populations becomes a way of providing evidence at land claims. (Read more about this in Maps and MemesRedrawing Culture, Place, and Identity in Indigenous Communities)

Beyond the legal applications counter-mapping combined with visual ways of expressing space are being used by artists as a way of marking places with counter-narratives.

Sarah Yankoo “is Algonquin, Irish, Hungarian, Romanian and Scottish and edge walks between the bush and the city that gathers in Toronto.” While in York University‘s Environmental Studies program she discovered the poetry of Marvin Francis in a class titled Indigenous Literature, Survival and Sovereignty and for her, the earth moved. Her response was to become one of the tenacious ones who seeks to uncover what some have tried to make us forget. Her photographic work is about creating an image bank demonstrating that in urban spaces a counter-mapping movement is taking place – graffiti tagging, arts activism, and even random formations seem to be giving us a message.

In underpasses, subway stairs and skyscrapers Sarah finds markers that signify we may be at the moment before a seismic shift is about to go down. The ‘Urban Rez’, as Indigenous populations explode, can become a place of renewal and a city, like Toronto / Tkaronto is capable of flexing intuitively – as though it remembers. The shape of the map may not be changing, but the rigid borders of colonial mindsets shift to create a dynamic that will forever change the emotional contours of a city.

Top image of Haida artist Corey Bulpitt’s mural. Bottom image Métis symbol replicates on subway stairs. Both by Sarah Yankoo. 

Sarah has also found a way to continue the work that Marvin started by “writing her own treaty poems while exploring the piece [City Treaty] as an installation work and political engagement piece.” For the University of British Columbia’s exhibit Claiming Space: Voices of Aboriginal Youth at the Museum of Anthropology she contributed City Treaty Manuscript. (view City Treaty Manuscript image above)

“Claiming Space: Voices of Urban Aboriginal Youth looks at the diverse ways urban Aboriginal youth are asserting their identity and affirming their relationship to both urban spaces and ancestral territories.” Read more…

KIMIWAN ‘ZINE‘s SIXXX edition featured Sarah’s treaty poem push that bush as well as her work titled your X mark (pictured below)

KIMIWAN ‘ZINE is a quarterly publication that showcases words + art from emerging + established Indigenous, First Nations, Métis, and Inuit writers + artists. Kimiwan is independently published by a collective of Indigenous artists, writers, students + community members. 

Kimiwan was started by Joi T. Arcand and Mika Lafond in summer of 2012.”

Top image X marks an urban spot. Bottom image peace and moccasins. Both images by Sarah Yankoo. 

The Revolution will be Indigenized.

Marvin, who passed away in 2005, wrote of Toronto:

“Winnipeg, with its high Aboriginal population, is one place where you can walk downtown and meet other Aboriginals. Regina is like that, too, but a city like Calgary or Toronto has few Aboriginals visible downtown.”

In Toronto First Nations, Métis or Inuit populations can become invisible, absorbed into the multicultural mix but as the city becomes more inquisitive about Indigenous histories and contemporary realities after the earth moved during Idle No More, the Toronto of Marvin’s recollection is rapidly changing. A growing Indigenous presence comprised of artists, activists and academics is drafting a new city treaty with their work. This isn’t just taking place behind the institutional walls of universities and museums – their work spills out into the streets.

During the summer of 2013 Ryerson professor Hayden King (Anishinaabe from Beausoleil First Nation on Gchimnissing) along with artist and educator Susan Blight (Anishinaabe from Couchiching First Nation) embarked on an intervention under the name Ogimaa Mikana (Leader’s Trail in Anishinaabemewin). In different locations in downtown Toronto street signs and memorial plaques were subtly counter-mapped by placing Indigenous names and text over the ones put in place by the operating Governments of Canada. Spadina was changed to Ishpadinaa and a plaque was covered at Queen’s Park with the words:

Piitaapocikewaatikakocin

Kintanishinaabeekimin
Nintanishinaabekwakiinaan
Kiminopiitookaakona awa…
Nintashiikewininaak
Aanti wenci nihsitawinaman?

Toronto (Place where the logs flow)

We all live on Native Territory
Our Anishinaabe Land
Welcome to our Community
How do your recognize it?


Above images of Ogimaa Mikana Project from www.ogimaamikana.tumblr.com.

With round dances taking place inside shopping malls and pow wows outside on University campuses even the rhythm of the city has changed.

Sarah also uses music as a way to infuse urban streets with Indigenous vibrations. She makes mouth bows out of branches she searches for when out in the bush. Inspired by the music of Buffy Sainte-Marie as well as A Tribe Called Red she also performs and is often remixing the recordings of her mouth bow on her iPad.

This coming Saturday she will performing alongside Skookum Sound System for Native Women in the Arts Catalyst Series hosted with the BOLD As Love Collective at the Musical Gallery, Toronto. Collectives like BOLD As Love, with their spoken word and musical performances, showcase the plurality of Indigenous voices fleshing out a deeper meaning of diversity.

The words of our lost languages have hidden meaning
And while business talks a level playing field
Native landscapes can contain asphalt back onto our feet
As the land itself invents our soundscape (read Sarah’s full treaty poem Edgewalker Remix below)

Counter-mapping and marking alternate meanings into the urban space becomes a therapeutic act. Time to dig down into the bedrock to excavate those solutions.

BOLD As Love includes:
Rosina Kazi
Jamaias DaCosta
Elwood Jimmy
Cherish Blood
Cris Derksen
&
Melody McKiver

Read more about BOLD As Love in Now Magazine.

EDGEWALKER REMIX by Sarah Yankoo

We all walk these edges uncertain
On border slippery
Between dirt poor
And filthy rich
Between the bush and city
Between sandy hot beach laughter
& heart breaking tears crying in the snow

We point out the edges that cut off our mind
Invisible borders stronger than barbed wire
Cement our paths to our edge walking ways
To lost children
& a Trail of Beers

When all you really want is to do is just go home
Play in a garden where pedals do not bite
Where the fingers fold in prayer
Where the smile heals eyes
Burnt by too much evening

For the young
& The old experienced love that still dares
The smoke is white and the crackle is electric

So pull your thoughts of others from history into today

And we all emerge from

Actual treaty lines

into the native-aboriginal- First Nation- last chance Indian status- cuz you went
trapping that day universe

The words of our lost languages have hidden meaning
And while business talks a level playing field
Native landscapes can contain asphalt back onto our feet
As the land itself invents our soundscape

What words describe agony of kids torn away
Of sudden
Language ILL legal
Of a circle of a people with their hearts in the fire
spirits in the electric smoke
& Minds in the crackle with knowledge for

FLASHBACK

To those treaties smouldering and collecting our dust

Flash forward

To loop the difference in times zoned

Flash present to a disguise that fools nobody’s god

Flash back again and again over and under and through the flashing

Flashback

To the territory as large as the land itself
Reach the borders and the sounds that fit the land contours
And while the rivers wash from the inside and the prairie undulates from the Canadian
Shield up one side of the Rockies and down the Mackenzie. Remember there is no
linear in the bush, and the city only thinks it does. so you can finally figure out that the
land is owned only by our children and never by us

Argue/bitch/question/probe/tear apart/challenge/discuss until everyone is sick of it

Then do it again

For you must remember what the people went through

Above images of Sarah Yankoo by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sarah is rocking a jacket by Toronto based Dene designer Sage Paul and boots by Métis owned company Manitobah Mukluks. You can support Indigenous designers by signing a petition against DSquared’s #DSquaw collection from Milan Fashion Week at Change.org. The petition asks that Dan and Dean Caten apologize for their actions and as Canadians donate the profits from their collection to an organization that supports the rights of Indigenous women here in Canada. Click here to sign.

Listen to Sage Paul speak on the issue to Metro Morning’s Matt Galloway here.

REMEMBRANCE DAY OTTAWA: Monuments, Memory & the Cultural Amnesia Many Work to Change

Remembrance Day at the National Aboriginal Veterans Monument & the National War Memorial.

I will let my images speak for themselves. Information on the people who have served this country:


Above images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag. 

REMEMBRANCE DAY: Aboriginal Veterans Ceremony at Confederation Park Ottawa

Aboriginal Veterans Remembrance Day Ceremony

11 November 2014
9:00 am
At the National Aboriginal Veterans Monument
Confederation Park, Ottawa
Map here 

From the Aboriginal Veterans Facebook Group page

“Aboriginal Veterans from the local area hold a small Remembrance Ceremony at the National Aboriginal Veterans Monument located in Confederation Park. The Ceremony will start at about 9:00 a.m. There is a chance to smudge before the ceremony, our Women do some drumming and singing before we start. The Ceremony is very informal and everyone in attendance has the opportunity to participate. Anyone can approach the Monument to lay an offering, gift, wreath, silent prayer or whatever feels appropriate. It does not last too long and there is time to grab a coffee/beverage before the National Ceremony starts at 11:00”

Everyone welcome!

Above Images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag. 

FREE HUGS & LANGUAGE LESSONS: Savannah Simon teaches us to #SpeakMikmaq

I am not going to tie this up with many words because a few lines will get the message across better than a post full of paragraphs or a lesson in history. What Savannah Simon shared at the Michaëlle Jean Foundation’s “Power of the Arts Forum” says it all.

Her grandmother had her language beaten out of her in residential school. She found a way back to her mother tongue when she fell in love with Savannah’s grandfather. He re-taught his love the language she had lost.

In residential school her grandmother went 6 years without being hugged. That is why Savannah gives away free hugs, so no one feels the isolation that comes from not being lovingly embraced by another.

Savannah’s other passion is to teach people her language.
#SpeakMikmaq “L’nuisi, it’s that easy.”

Support Indigenous languages and learning. You can find out more information on Savannah on twitter @MsNativeWarrior and on her youtube channel.

Find out more about the Michaëlle Jean Foundation on the website and witness the #PowerofTheArts | #PouvoirDesArts weekend on twitter @Power_OfTheArts.

FYI – If you are interested in learning more about Canada’s complex history with First Peoples join writers Waubgeshig Rice (Anishinaabe), Suzanne Keeptwo (Métis & Irish) along with John Ralston Saul to discuss John’s book “The Comeback” tonight Monday, November 10 at 7 pm Southminster United Church, Ottawa.

More info on the Writers Festival website as well as on Facebook and twitter @WritersFest or #OIWF.

Above images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag. 

CLOSING THIS WEEKEND: Making Otherwise – Craft and Material Fluency in Contemporary Art at Carleton University Art Gallery, Ottawa

woman weaving basket shape on head of man, sitting outside

The Art of Craft at the CUAG in Ottawa.

“In The Invention of Craft (2013), Glenn Adamson argues that while a hierarchy of artistic disciplines was established during the Renaissance, the modern classification of craft as distinct from fine art and industry developed between 1750 and 1850, during the Industrial Revolution. Fine art and craft have each acquired their particular histories, disciplines, discourses, methodologies, and iconic works. Today, we have inherited a set of persistent binaries that elevates art above craft and defines craft as “non-art.”

Long shot of gallery with art installationsPhoto of “Making Otherwise” Exhibit by Justin Wonnacott, courtesy of the artists.

In speaking with Heather Anderson, the curator for Making Otherwise: Craft and Material Fluency in Contemporary Art, I asked her if the (considerably more blurred) boundary between art and craft has always been of interest to her. “Yes,” she responds but now that she has had the chance to dive deep into the subject her interest has become more passionate. “You find some threads and you want to keep on pulling them,” she answers.

Image of what looks like wooden chair and planks but is actually porcelainWhen you view this exhibit you can definitely see why. The show is full of work that makes you reconsider your first impression and move towards the pieces in an act of discovery – give your mind a little tug to unwind it all. Marc Courtemanche’s porcelain works deceive you. The installation is so convincing I feel that I can sense the density and weight of the wood as the grain is so painstakingly etched into the surfaces.

Paul Mathieu’s hand painted porcelain bowls play tricks with your eyes and illusions are created as you maneouver around their preciousness and precarious positioning in the gallery space.

Above and below photo of Marc Courtemanche’s “The Studio” (stoneware, porcelain, glaze, metal, rope) by Justin Wonnacott, courtesy of the artist.long shot of installation of what looks like wood objects in old antique style shed or wrecking yardPorcelain bowl with classical style of painting of man reclining like an odalisque Porcelain bowl with classical style of painting of man reclining like an odalisque Porcelain bowl with classical style of painting of man reclining like an odalisque Above photos of Paul Mathieu’s “Odalisque Bowl, Ian / Edouard” (hand-painted porcelain) by Justin Wonnacott, courtesy of the artist.

Sarah Maloney’s Collapse is a chaise longue that dips with feminine curves but becomes anything but inviting upon closer inspection when you realize there are cast bronze flowers jutting up from the soft surface of the upholstery.

Upclose shot of bronze cast drooping tulips rising from a paisley upholstered couch
long shot of bronze cast drooping tulips rising from a paisley upholstered couch Above photos of Sarah Maloney’s “Collapse” (antique fainting couch, bronze, fabric) by Justin Wonnacott, courtesy of the artist.

Nothing is quite as it seems and the ‘craftiness’ of these artists to influence and cajole us into deeper reflection shows that Heather did a fine job in selecting talent from across Canada.

The work of Ursula Johnson encourages the viewer to unravel her deceptively straightforward presentation of woven busts. They are accessible, no glass case to separate. They are supple, constructed from curved strips of smooth wood. They appear uniform and seem almost weightless. The light colouring makes them very contemporary – like a succinct comment on a minimalist aesthetic. But the process by which Ursula has chosen to construct her busts is a deliberate act that binds her contemporary art practice to a tradition that reaches way back. Ursula learned the art of basket weaving from her great-grandmother, master weaver Caroline Gould, a Mi’kmaw elder from Waycobah Reserve in Nova Scotia.

woman weaving basket shape on head of man, sitting outside

The busts are woven with strips of black ash a wood whose current state has been categorized as an endangered species. It’s a wood that traditionally populated the East Coast, the Mi’kmaq territories of Ursula’s ancestors. The procedure to reduce the wood down to the essential strips is a laborious task. Fewer and fewer people have the how-to expertise. Ursula is one of the knowledge keepers.

The lightness of the materials conceals the weight of the subject matter. The busts are about the policy of assimilation – the convoluted categorization of Indigenous people in Canada by way of the Indian Act.

“L’nuwelti’k (We Are Indian)” is an ongoing series of portrait busts that memorializes individuals and explores Indian Registration and Membership Codes. Johnson called for volunteers who self-identified with a particular code defined by the Indian Act, such as “Male 6.1, Off-reserve.” 

Unlike an assigned number that renders an individual’s personality, character and history invisible through the device of a constructed code, when seen as a collective, the busts actually shift in their contour and size, breaking the initial impression of indistinctness. Each bust speaks to the physical form of the sitter who has participated with Ursula. Ursula’s “de-briefing” process as the sitter comes out of the cocoon-like structure she weaves around them ensures that they are more than a number. Hidden from the sight of the viewer, inside the recessed head of the bust, is the person’s name and details of the encounter Ursula has had with them during a performance of her weaving.

woman weaving basket shape on head of man, sitting outside
woman weaving basket shape on head of man, sitting outside
woman weaving basket shape on head of man, sitting outsideAbove photos of Ursula Johnson’s “L’Inuwelti’k (We Are Indian)” series (black ash) by Justin Wonnacott, courtesy of the artist.

It is amazing to watch Ursula weave, for many reasons – she is fast and efficient as well as full of grace. She is present with her participant and will do what she can to ensure they are comfortable and supported. Her performance is not set up as though on a stage separated from a crowd of onlookers but rather a shared experience of intimacy she has with both her audience but most especially her sitter.

As I witness Ursula’s performance at Carleton, the beginnings of the framework looks like the yarmulke worn by Jewish men. Soon it resembles the bonnet my Mennonite great-grandmother wore to symbolically identify who she was spiritually and the community she was connected with. Her choice to cover her head was what people would see first, perhaps making assumptions about what they thought she might be before discovering more about the woman she really was.

woman weaving basket shape on head of man, sitting outside

When completed it reminds me of the medieval chain mail armour that served as a means of protecting but also masking the identity of the men inside the metal mesh. Heather reflects on something a visitor to the gallery had said about how the busts look like the niqab worn by some Muslim women. She shared with Heather that she believed that the western eye is conditioned to see a Muslim woman who covers her head as part of an unknowable mass rather than as an individual. Heather remarks that “our tendency is to assume very quickly that we can’t differentiate but perhaps we can.”

And we should.

Making Otherwise ends this weekend.This great exhibit offers us a chance to see the art of craft and the politics of identity in a new way.

Image of what looks like wooden chair and planks but is actually porcelain

Also in the show are artists Richard Boulet and Janet Morton.

The exhibit will tour to the following locations:

Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery in Halifax, NS
(9 October – 30 November 2014)

Cambridge Galleries, Cambridge, ON (10 April – 17 May 2015)

Above image of Richard Boulet’s “Keeps it All Neat and Tidy” by Justin Wonnacott, courtesy of the artist.

Follow CUAG on twitter @CUArtGallery and Facebook.


Above image of “Making Otherwise” by Justin Wonnacott, courtesy of the artist.

Images of Ursula Johnson performing “L’Inuwelti’k (We Are Indian)” at Carleton University by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

EDITOR’S NOTE: In the midst of researching and writing about this exhibit I was invited to join the CUAG Advisory Board. This came as a welcomed surprise. My experience with CUAG as a reviewer of their exhibits over the past year has been positive and I look forward to starting a different kind of relationship with the team at CUAG.

CLOSING THIS WEEKEND: Kwe at Justina M. Barnicke Gallery U of T Toronto & Skin Deep at Carleton University Art Gallery, Ottawa

Photograph of woman standing with her back to viewer, wearing casual clothes, jean jacket, hands outstretchedRebecca Belmore “Sister” 2010. Image provided by Scotiabank Contact.

“KWE delves into the complicated and fertile relationship between Indigeneity, art, and colonization. Kwe is the Anishinaabe word for woman and is a term of respect. Rebecca Belmore’s artistic practice engages the question of what it is to be an Anishinaabe-kwe artist working today through photography, sculptures, videos, and performances.” Scotiabank Contact website

Crammed into a confined space at the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery are four videos that span the career of artist Rebecca Belmore. The combination of the tight squeeze, the darkness and the haunting sounds seeping from the headsets feels like an assault on the senses – as it should be. Because Rebecca’s work isn’t about being conceptual – it batters you, hits you hard, compels you to have some sort of reaction even if that reaction is to go deeper into denial because the uncomfortable truths she tells are too painful to wrap your head around.

woman standing behind glass dragging stones down the window trailing a mixture of blood and oilwoman holding pointed stone between her hands with water dripping from itWoman pressing her bloody hand against a window, see her face through the glassWoman pressing her bloody hand against a window, see her face through the glassAbove images of Rebecca’s October 2013 performance in Toronto. All images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

At a performance last fall as part of the Symposium on Decolonial Aesthetics From The Americas Rebecca scraped stone, blood, oil, over a window from the outside as we looked on as witnesses from the inside. The blazing lights of a parked car in a dark lot (aimed at the window and framing Rebecca’s body in silhouette) summed up how murdered and missing Indigenous Women (the current count according to the RCMP is 1181*) may have spent their final moments. I’ve travelled alone many times. I think of the close calls I have had on dark roads alone in cars with a man / men. There go I but for the grace of some god.

Why her, that Kwe? And why not me?

On might say because “she was in the wrong place at the wrong time” – the English phrase, that in this case, is a misnomer that actually means she was in a place where one is caught in a web of systems (beyond her control) that ensure that oppression won’t quit. An Indigenous woman’s body is still genocidal ground zero, lying under the immovable mass of Colonial rubble. At present very little is being done to protect our Indigenous sisters.

Despite the tragedy, Rebecca’s work has a beauty, and I am sure I am not the first to say this, a spirit of resilience. The KWE (pronounced K-way) exhibit demonstrates her ability to embed elegance into any composition or object. One exits from the room housing the videos into the main room inhabited by photography with a striking and succinct presence – a woman’s back, a worn jean jacket, outstretched arms, gracefully positioned fingers reach out as if to soften, with her touch, the room’s sharp corners.

Gallery space with art installs, sculpture and photographySeries of 3 photographs of woman wrapped in white linen like a mummy but with head hanging out. One image she is upside down and hanging

In the series Untitled a woman is wrapped in the swaddled style of a mummified corpse. The spirit of the woman breathes into the negative spaces; her shadows extend beyond her physical presence. Rebecca’s compositions are laconic phrases that speak of life enduring.

KWE closes this weekend at the Justina M. Barnicke with a performance by Rebecca. The performance Ayum-ee-aawach Oomama-mowan: Speaking to their Mother Gathering will include taking the megaphone Rebecca constructed in 1991, as a reaction to the Oka Crisis (Kanien’kehaka Resistance), out of the gallery space into the periphery of the city – Gibraltar Point, Toronto Island.

We are living through the pollution of our waterways from unregulated industry, and both Indigenous people and Canadians need to stand together to protect what Anishinaabe people and scientists believe is the lifeblood of Mother Earth. Many Indigenous women have brought attention to the issue through water walks, which actively heal the spirit of the water. Come lend your voice to their action or just hang out in support.Read more…

This event is tomorrow, Saturday, August 9, at 1 pm on Toronto Island. Join the Facebook Event Page to find out information on shuttle buses from the Gallery and pricing for ferries to the island.

In light of what has happened this week around water this has become a more imperative event.

*NOTE ON THE NUMBER 1181: When I asked Métis  artist Christi Belcourt of the Walking With Our Sisters Project to confirm the latest stats on the missing and murdered sisters she pointed out that the number doesn’t include deaths of Indigenous women who are ruled as suicide but whose death might actually be a murder. This number, she says, also doesn’t include trans women. Or women who were lost in the system of  residential schools, adoption, and foster care. Or women who are non-status. So the number, in truth, is much higher. It is also important to note that Indigenous men are going missing and being murdered at an alarming rate.

Crowd of people with artist in middle, curator at the microphone smiling LEFT: Rebecca Belmore at KWE opening. RIGHT: KWE’s curator Wanda Nanibush. Image by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag. 

 

View of gallery with Inuit art on wallsImage courtesy curator Lisa Truong. 

Ink etching of abstract faces of Inuit people with tattooed faces

“Skin Deep explores the enormous importance of skins and skin clothing in Inuit culture, past and present. In Inuit narratives, skin is something that can be worn, shed, and manipulated. People tattoo their own skin to affirm personal and cultural identities, and wear clothing made from animal skins for aesthetic adornment and protection from the elements. Skin Deep features the tools used to hunt animals and prepare their skins; prints, drawings, and sculptures depicting stories and objects in which skin plays a central role; and objects made from skin, such as mitts and boots. The exhibition includes the work of artists like Ningeokuluk Teevee, Jessie Oonark, Arnaqu Ashevak, and Helen Kalvak.”

Man and woman in front of Inuit print of people in traditional dressPhoto of curator Lisa Truong by Justin Wonnacott courtesy of Carleton University Art Gallery. 

Inuit Art: Skin Deep is a small but impactful show selected with care by curator Lisa Truong.  The exhibit currently on at Ottawa’s Carleton University Art Gallery, opened with uncanny timing this past spring after a winter of (justifiable) discontent from the Inuit community in response to Ellen DeGeneres support in the banning of the seal hunt.

The twittersphere was alive with #Sealfies as acts of self-determination. Some guests to the CUAG show expressed to Lisa that they had no idea until viewing the Skin Deep how vital seal was to the economy and culture of the North and now understood  the reaction of the Inuit community.

Two women viewing seal skin boots behind glass casePhoto by Justin Wonnacott courtesy of Carleton University Art Gallery. 

Inuk filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril was one of the spearheaders of the social media campaign. Alethea’s documentary Tunniit: Retracing the Lines of Inuit Tattoos recounts her own, often raw story, of how she uncovers the lost of traditions of tattooing.

With the coming of Christianity to the North tattooing became a shamed practice. Unlike other traditions that went underground but were still practiced in secret, tattooing disappeared. Alethea’s decision to tattoo her own face, initially, was not met with support from her Inuk mother. The shame around marking one’s body to embrace one’s identity as an Inuk person has been etched deep into the psyche of the Inuit. Breaking with traditions became a strategy of survival once the European arrived and took control.

Knowing this, when you see Arnaquq Ashevak’s “Tattooed Women” in Skin Deep you understand that it contains loaded histories and contemporary victories in its quiet presence. Much like Rebecca’s Untitled series, the way the women are wrapped by the bands of ink can be read as simultaneously binding and protective.

Art work with two woman standing with back to viewer, hands on their heads, both in tattoos lining their bodies“Tattooed Women” by Arnaqu Ashevak. Image courtesy of Dorset Fine Arts. 

Lisa recounts:

“when I saw Alethea’s documentary I knew I wanted to do something on the body and “Tattooed Women” was the first piece that popped into my mind. Alethea’s documentary shows reclamation of knowledge and a decision to go find that knowledge even if it is obscure – to go hunt it out – and place it on the body.”

Alethea’s choice to score her face with ink was a radical act of decolonizing her body. Her reversal back into time to bring forth a lost tradition will have dramatic impact on the future of her community. Already we see other Inuit women following her example.

Of Arnaqu’s work Lisa says:

“This piece is a reflective piece looking forward and looking back so on the right you have the woman who is representing the traditional body and facial tattoos as well as traditional forms of beauty. You can see ever so slightly the tattoos on her cheeks and two braids on the side of her head.

On the left a woman is clothed in tattoos that are contemporary, not to be literal, but as a symbolic decision on what parts to reveal and what parts to cover.

The way the women are posed, their arms up, they are asking people to look at their bodies. There is this gaze that travels across the body.

It’s a very warm piece and thought provoking piece because of the body language of the women – they are modest but have their arms up as to expose.”

For me, the power in this piece is the agency is expresses regarding women’s bodies and spiritual selves. As Lisa says, this work, like Alethea’s decision to tattoo her face “demonstrates the body as a place of political and cultural sovereignty.”

Art work of Inuit woman in traditional dress unzipping her head to reveal a fox coming out from her head“Shaman Revealed” by Ningeokuluk Teevee. Image courtesy of Dorset Fine Arts. 

The other piece in the show that as a woman moved me was “Shaman Revealed.” In a time when we desperately require (s)heros the unzipping of a woman’s skin to reveal the animal spirit inside speaks to the importance of personal transformation in finding the source of one’s influence.

The artist, Lisa says, “combines a traditional legend [the legend of Kiviuq] with contemporary flair. The story is about staying true to oneself and not criticizing others for being who they are.”

There is alchemic power when we reveal what we hide inside.

Both KWE and Skin Deep present the female/kwe body as the conduit of great strength and locate her beyond victimhood.

Inuit Art: Skin Deep closes this weekend at CUAG.

For weekend visiting hours visit the Carleton University Art Gallery’s website.

View of gallery with Inuit art on wallsImage courtesy curator Lisa Truong. 

OTTAWA SUMMER SOLSTICE: Great Day Spent with Friends

Ottawa Summer Solstice & Competition Powwow 2014.

It was a beautiful weekend to welcome in the summer season. Great to see everyone at the Summer Solstice Festival & Powwow!

Read more about the Ottawa Summer Solstice Festival on there website as well as follow on twitter @OttawaSolistice and Facebook.



Images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

HAPPY NATIONAL ABORIGINAL DAY: Saying Miigwetch / Thank You to all the Change Makers We Met This Year!

Planet IndigenUS Harbourfront Centre Toronto. Image by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

Celebrating the history and contemporary contributions of First Nations, Inuit & Métis peoples in Canada.

In the year since National Aboriginal Day ’13 I have met some incredible people – beautiful, talented and concerned – who are using their gifts to work towards healing and change in Canada and beyond.

Inspired by you all!

Happy #NADCanada!



Image from @ONAboriginal (Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs Ontario).

Resources for learning about Treaties from the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs Ontario.

Do you want to know more about Treaties? The Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs Ontario is celebrating National Aboriginal Day by launching #TreatyON – a campaign to raise treaty awareness. You can find out more information and download their Treaty Map here!

“Ontario is sending a First Nations and Treaties map to every elementary and high school in the province as a first step towards raising awareness about treaties.

The map will help teach students about the significance of treaties and the shared history of First Nations and non-Aboriginal Ontarians.” Read more…


Image from @ONAboriginal (Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs Ontario).

KICKSTART THE MONTH OF MAY: Contact Opens, Jane’s Walks’ Weekend & the NAC Features “huff”

How one woman changed a community then went on to change the world.

So much of the way we think and act around neighbourhood, community and city building in the 21st Century is because of the ideas of a single woman – Jane Jacobs. If you need an example of how one human being can have huge impact, Jane is that inspiring person who walked her talk and went on to inspire an international movement. Her ideas of what a community should be resonated with many because it articulated what people already knew to be true as to why certain spaces become thriving communities.

Every year, to honour Jane’s legacy, cities world-wide hosts walks that allow people to discover some brilliant nuance of the place where they live that they may never have discovered otherwise. All of this is possible due to the thousands of volunteers who get out into their community and share their knowledge during Jane’s Walks.

I just discovered the above video highlighting a great walk I participated in a few years back. This walk, that featured the work of Toronto’s many street artists, had us meandering through the downtown core via the back alleys where a technicolour world awaited us. The tour was given by Jason of the Tour Guys, an organization in Toronto that specializes in giving offbeat tours of one of North America’s most interesting cities.

Women who are Indigenizing city spaces.

This year, in both Toronto and Ottawa, walks will be given that highlight the history of Indigenous Peoples.

Toronto’s Jane’s Walks’ lineup includes The Steps of Old Lake Iroquois.

“This walk will explore historic land use along Davenport Rd and the lands along the ridge while providing excellent views of the city. How did First Nations people get around? Who were some of the early movers and shakers? What was the origin of Wychwood Park?”

In Ottawa there is a newly launched initiative, Indigenous Walks, and IW’s tour guide, local Metis artist and educator Jaime Koebel, will be sharing her knowledge and passion for Indigenous history on Saturday and Sunday at 2pm each day. Jaime uses the experience of sight-seeing the beautiful monuments in the Capital city to allow people to experience the history of Ottawa, as well as the history of Canada, by walking in the shoes (or moccasins) of an Indigenous person. The tour starts at the Human Rights Monument at City Hall. More info can be found here. 

And speaking of Indigenizing public spaces, artist Dana Claxton’s (Lakota) “Indian Candy” is part of CONTACT, Toronto’s annual festival celebrating the art of photography.

Each year CONTACT commissions work to be put up on billboards around the downtown core, activating what is normally a space reserved for spreading  a message of commerce to instead spread messages on social issues.

Dana’s work  “interrogates the presentation of Indigenous iconography through the digital archive in Indian Candy.

Working from found images of the “Wild West” sourced online, the artist focuses on those connected to Sitting Bull, the iconic tribal leader who led a resistance against government policies in the United States. As a descendant of Sitting Bull’s band who came to Canada, Claxton simultaneously mines her own personal family history and the legacy of racism. Her diverse range of images present aspects of Indigeneity in a new light; from the buffalo, which represents spirituality for Lakota people and was a main source of sustenance until their near annihilation, to signed souvenir cards from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. As a whole, Indian Candy uncovers truths and performs as a provisional archive of Aboriginal imagery seen through the lens of colonialism.” 

For the month of May you will be able to see Dana’s billboards along Dundas St. West. For more information on the exhibit as well as a map click here.

Also part of CONTACT, some of MIXED BAG MAG’s favourite people, projects and art spaces!

THE POWER PLANT WITH
WEDGE CURATORIAL

Pictures from Paradise: A Survey of Contemporary Caribbean Photography
More info…
Opening Party Tomorrow!


THE GLADSTONE HOTEL WITH MANIFESTO
40 Years of Hip Hop Photography
More info…
Opening Party Tonight! 


MOCCA WITH MERYL MCMASTER:

Material Self: Performing the Other Within
More info…
Opening Party Tonight! 

And another favourite MIXED BAG MAG space for the arts, this time in Ottawa, is The National Arts Centre. This week “huff” has opened at the NAC and runs through until May 10. This provocative work has left everyone I know who has experienced it, changed. It’s not a piece of theatre that is easily digestible but despite the heavy subject matter, substance abuse among First Nations’ youth, people seem to walk away feeling that the experience of being uncomfortable witnessing Cliff Cardinal’s one man show was a positive one that includes a message of hope!

For more information on ‘huff’ visit the National Arts Centre website.

FYI – $12 Student Rush Tickets available here!

 

For more information on the Scotiabank CONTACT Festival visit their website,

For more information on Jane’s Walks visit the Toronto and Ottawa full schedule links below:

Jane’s Walk’s Toronto Schedule

 

 

Jane’s Walk Ottawa Schedule

 

FYI-  Be a part of the Samba Launch Party Procession Tonight at 6 pm. MIXED BAG MAG’ fave Zahra Ebrahim of archiTEXT will be one of the procession leaders of this walk that is all about PLAY! Details here.

WISHING EVERYONE A WEEKEND WHERE YOU LEARN SOMETHING NEW & HAVE FUN!

All above images of Jane’s Walk 2011 (Graffiti Tour & Samba Procession) by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag. 

 

LOUIS RIEL DAY: Featuring Cree Métis Visual Artist Jason Baerg

pixelated image of a portrait of Louis Riel

Honouring the spirit of Louis Riel and cultural resiliency.

Today, Manitobans are celebrating Louis Riel Day in remembrance of Riel’s political and social impact for the province of Manitoba. “Louis Riel was the driving force behind Manitoba becoming Canada’s fifth province. His dream of a province that embraces all cultures is still shared by Manitobans today.” (sited from Government of Manitoba’s website)

But Riel’s impact was larger than the locality of the battles fought in the late 1800s and his vision is  still relevant in contemporary times. As a leader who fought for the rights and cultural sovereignty of the Métis people Riel has become for many (even non-Métis people) an icon of resistance. He understood the fissures that occur in the dried up riverbeds that lie between culture and geopolitics. Today many are still praying for rain and fighting the same battle.

Riel also believed in the power of artists. He is quoted as saying “My people will sleep for one hundred years, but when they awake, it will be the artists who give them their spirit back.”

In this spirit MIXED BAG MAG celebrates Louis Riel Day with a feature on Cree Métis artist Jason Baerg. Jason’s current show at Urban Shaman in Winnipeg, Manitoba features his work from his series Nomadic Bounce. The work for Nomadic Bounce was produced as part of a residency in Australia RMIT School of Art and is about (re/dis)location. Nomadic Bounce points to the fact that whether we are near or far from ‘home’, it is an ever present concept we return to even when our feelings around home are ambiguous, even tenuous.

Brightly painted wood in the shape of thunderbolts
Detail shot of Nomadic Bounce series at Urban Shaman. Image provided by the artist.

Jason has called many places home. Born in Sarnia, Ontario Jason was young when he moved with his mother and siblings to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan to be closer to his Aboriginal family. As a teenager he ‘bounced’ back to Sarnia, Ontario where he lived with his Mennonite father. Soon after he moved to Kitchener-Waterloo to finish high school. Then there was Montreal for university, Toronto for college and art residencies in New York, Santa Fe and Australia.

Asbtract wood pieces assembled on the wall of a gallery and on the floor on a mirror

“Home is a headspace”

But like a bird, Jason always circles back to where his migration route began. For Jason home base is located in the power of Indigenous Knowledge, both the spiritual concepts and the potent visuals that speak through the language of symbols. This is what grounds Nomadic Bounce but like much of Jason’s work, with this project, he also chose to take a investigative journey around innovative techniques.

Two Abstract paintings on a wall

Nomadic Bounce was an exploration into what happens when you take traditional painting then utilize ‘cutting edge’ technologies to intervene and agitate perceptions of what painting / sculpture / installation can be.

The paintings were based on seven 33 second video clips Jason made of poignant moments he experienced at home / abroad / in transit. Two mirror sets of paintings were created: one set remained as traditional paintings that could be fixed to a wall; the other set was laser cut into shapes and intended to be used for site specific installations. A shape that is ubiquitous in this series is the thunderbolt. Jason explains that he uses the thunderbolt often as it is affirms change but not just any type of change – it is the type of change that is “dramatic, immediate, rapid.” When he brings this symbol into his work it is about shifting energy.

The original intent of the body of work was to re-assemble it each time it changed location as the idea of a journey was the core conceptual premise of the series. In Australia the laser cuts were assembled into mandalas, powerful circles that establish a sacred space and represent the cosmos. Jason imagined that the next manifestation of the work would be something similar but then the work took on a life (or lives) of its own when it disembarked at each new destination.

In Prince Albert the work configured to resemble the cityscape Jason grew up with and the view of the buildings as seen from across the river divide. In Edmonton, as Idle No More gained momentum and the Journey of the Nishiyuu topped the headlines, the pieces were assembled into four jack rabbits that were inspired by the cunning abilities of the trickster when opposing the status quo.


Nomadic Bounce installed at Strathcona County Art Gallery, Edmonton. Image provided by the artist.

The Battle of Batoche in 1885 was a defeat for the Métis people that led to the surrender and eventual execution of Louis Riel. When Jason’s work arrived at The Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon the Battle combined with the impact of the railway on Indigenous people was the spirit that moved the work to configure into an empty train car modeled on the post-modern solar-powered speed trains of Japan. Jason says this form was about “an act of reclamation, giving the power back to the People.”


Performance with Jason Baerg, Adrian Stimson & JS Gauthier at the Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon. Image provided by the artist.

Now at Urban Shaman the work has emerged as two wolves, both in a strong stance, reflecting their gaze upon each other. Jason sees the wolf as an innovator who leaves the pack to find new knowledge that is brought back to fuel resiliency. “The wolf is looking into the future, the past, into the community and at itself, concurrently.”

The beauty is that this series of work that began as a meditation on home has become fluid, adaptable to place and flexible – changing shape without compromising the original sum of its parts.

FYI – Jason’s show RETURNING closes this weekend at Urban Shaman so if you are in the Winnipeg area this would be a great show to check out!

Artist: Jason Baerg
Dates: January 17 to February 22, 2014
Opening reception on January 17 | Artist Talk at 9pm
Location: Urban Shaman’s Main and Marvin Francis Media Art Galleries
In partnership with Art City Youth Exhibition, Urban Shaman’s AND Gallery

More details on Urban Shaman’s website.
Also follow Urban Shaman on Facebook and on twitter @UrbanShamanInc.



Above images of Nomadic Bounce at Urban Shaman, Winnipeg. Images provided by the artist.