Arts and Culture Exhibit

The Portal to Unity between Nature and Humanity

Collaboration between museums and Indigenous communities offers a step toward a new way of displaying sacred objects.

Thought and Splendour of Indigenous Colombia: Portable Universe is a collaborative exhibition organized by five museums in the United States, Canada, and Colombia in dialogue with the Arhuaco community of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta region of Northern Colombia. The active inclusion of the Arhuaco community in this exhibition’s organization intentionally puts forth an indigenous perspective of the world, allowing viewers to witness each object through the lens of the culture from which they came. This decision provides a richer understanding of the intentions behind each piece and creates a cross-cultural dialogue through which knowledge can be equally exchanged. 

The exhibition opens up with a didactic wall text that provides an overview of how the perspective of Indigenous people enriches present-day society through a timeless sensibility. There is no beginning or end for the objects collected here,  for their inherent spirit traverses time and space. Upon entering the gallery, the viewers encounter the “Votive figure (Tunjo)”, which is a sculpture shaped like a man seated in the basket position. Through the gesture of the figure’s connected hands, this piece provides a glimpse into one of the major themes of the exhibition—the circularity and timelessness of indigenous thought. A selection of contemporary artwork at the end of the exhibition rounds out the show by reinforcing the timeless notion of nature as a respected and valued part of humanity.

The curators refused to organize the display according to a linear timeline. This choice encourages the visitors to connect with the pieces’ functional role and the intentions of the creator rather than inserting them into a canonical order. Consequently, the viewer focuses on the lessons embedded in each piece regarding the relationship humans share with nature and their symbiotic roles.

View of the exhibition Portable Universe: Thought and Splendour of Indigenous Colombia at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Photo MMFA, Jean-François Brière

Considering nature as our extended family and respecting it is another recurring theme of the exhibition. The importance of the natural world in Indigenous communities shows through their sacred practices. The exhibition opens a discussion that calls into question the Western view of nature as a resource to use and exploit and encourages viewers to consider the Indigenous view of nature as our shared home that must be respected and protected. 

Each room in the exhibition is curated according to a different theme in order to emphasize an important aspect of the Arhuaco culture. Video projectors, images and soundscapes throughout the exhibition remind visitors of the natural sights and sounds that are significant and sacred in the practices of the Indigenous communities of Colombia. These practices focus on the principles of creation and imitation of natural elements. Video projections serve as extended narratives and insert a sensorial and human element into the gallery space. 

The exhibition is located in the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and will be open to the public until October 1st, 2023. 

Ar(t)chives Arts

A brief look at artist Emily Carr’s totemic paintings: innovation or appropriation?

The well-known Canadian artist’s work has sparked debates for quite some time when it comes to her paintings that depict Indigenous art and communities

The work of Emily Carr has no doubt captured the attention of Canadian art connoisseurs throughout the years, and many have hailed her work as innovative. There’s perhaps no other artist who has represented British Columbia’s wilderness and its people so diligently and vividly as Carr. Born on Dec. 13, 1871 in Victoria, Carr spent the majority of her life living among breathtaking mountain ranges and verdant forests. Her early work demonstrates a clear fascination with Victoria’s landscape and its vegetation. Despite her education leading her abroad to Europe for a considerable period of time, Carr eventually returned to B.C. not only with refined artistic skills but also with an even more profound appreciation for her homeland.

It was a trip to Ucluelet, a municipality on the west coast of Vancouver Island, that initially piqued Carr’s interest in Indigenous art and culture. She began depicting totemic art and people she met in Indigenous communities in her work during this time. Despite being immortalized as one of Canada’s most talented artists, Carr’s work has also sparked debates by some who view her paintings featuring Indigenous life and totemic art as prime examples of artistic appropriation.

A major turning point in Carr’s career that led her to pursue Indigenous art as her subject matter was a trip in 1907 to Alaska, where she spent the majority of her time immersing herself in the life of the Indigenous community she was staying in. A few years later, in the summer of 1912, still inspired by her trip to Alaska, Carr set out on a trip to Haida Gwaii, an archipelago located 100 kilometres west of the northern coast of B.C. She began working on a collection of paintings, and as Ian Thom writes in Emily Carr Collected, “The primary goal of this large body of work was to document the villages and totems of First Nations people, which Carr, like most Euro-Canadians of her generation, believed were destined to disappear.”

While Carr’s own writing and records from those who were close to her suggest that the artist was dedicated to her subjects’ preservation, there are still some who wonder if Carr really knew enough about these Indigenous communities and their forms of art to make them her focus. Some speculate she was simply caught up in the romanticization of Indigenous life, and was simply emulating their art through her own work. In an article from Canadian Art titled The Trouble with Emily Carr, author Robert Fulford writes, “Did Emily Carr understand native culture in the way she understood, say, the British-colonial Victoria in which she grew up? Or did she understand it in the way a diligent scholar may come to know a single foreign culture after years of study?”

With all of this in mind, Carr still had an undeniably keen eye for important details when it came to all of her pieces. She managed to capture totemic art like no other white, Canadian artist had before. As an artist, her distinctive style showcased the West Coast’s abundance of natural wonders in a manner that is simply inimitable.

Although Carr may or may not have understood Indigenous traditions or a community’s way of life, her paintings depicting totemic art still appear to demonstrate a considerable appreciation for what she witnessed during her time in B.C. — even if only from a superficial standpoint. Many still, and probably always will, remain torn between their admiration of Carr’s haunting work and the ethical questions that arise when we begin to ask, who reserves the right to depict certain subject matter in their art, and who doesn’t?


Graphic by Taylor Reddam


daphne: A space for sharing Indigenous knowledge and experience through art

An Indigenous artist-run center is set to open in January

The first Indigenous artist-run center in Tiohtià:ke/Mooniyang, also known as Montreal, is scheduled to open in January. This might be the city’s most exciting art news in a very long time.

The Indigenous artist-run center, to be named daphne, will exhibit contemporary First Nation, Métis, and Inuit art. The project was first conceived in late 2018, initiated by four artists: Kanien’kehá:ka artists Hannah Claus and Skawennati, and Anishinaabe artists Nadia Myre and Caroline Monnet.

Claus is a transdisciplinary artist of English and Kanien’kehá:ka heritage that applies Onkwehon:we epistemology in her artistic practice. Claus currently teaches Frameworks and Interventions of Indigenous Art Practice in Concordia’s Studio Art department Skawennati is a multimedia artist that incorporates the themes of history, future, and change in her works. Along with Jason E. Lewis, who teaches Computation Arts at Concordia, she is the co-director of a research network called Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace (AbTeC) that focuses on creating and investigating Indigenous virtual environments.

Myre is a visual artist who is interested in conversing about identity, politics, resilience and belonging through her art. She has many permanent exhibitions in various places such as the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and the National Gallery of Canada. As for Monnet, she is a multidisciplinary artist and a filmmaker. She is known for her installations and films, like her experimental film Ikwé that she presented at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2009.

Lori Beavis is an art educator who will be the first director of the artist centre. Beavis is of Michi Sagiig (Mississauga) Anishinaabe and Irish-Welsh descent and is part of Hiawatha First Nation of Rice Lake, Ontario. Beavis has been curating exhibitions as an independent curator for six years.

In a recent interview, Beavis explained that the inspiration behind the artist-centre’s name comes from Anishinaabe artist Daphne Odjig, known for her pictographic style paintings. Odjig was the first First Nations woman artist to exhibit at the National Gallery of Canada, and was a feminist and an activist that helped bring an Indigenous voice into contemporary Canadian art. daphne will serve as a space to commemorate her.

Just like Odjig, Beavis and her team “intend for Centre d’art daphne to be a space for artists to find strength in community, generated through relationships with curators and audiences, and, equally significant, to participate in the art conversations that are taking place in and across borders.”

daphne will serve as a community space where Indigenous and non-Indigenous people may gather and engage in conversations with the artworks and programs that will be exhibited at the artist centre. It will invite curators, artists, and various other audiences to join in an exchange of knowledge. daphne will give the opportunity to Indigenous artists to share their knowledge and experiences.

Beavis wants to bring as many people as possible to the artist centre. The director plans to contact various Montreal organizations where Indigenous people gather. For instance, Beavis would like to get in touch with language programs in Montreal, such as Native Montreal that has a language revitalization program that offers Anishnabe, Cree, Innu, Mohawk, Inuktitut, Huron-Wendat, Atikamekw classes for adults and Inuktitut classes for children.

Beavis would be thrilled to get involved with people engaged in that program, and to bring students to daphne, as she believes hands-on experiences and handling materials enrich language learning.

Youth groups and secondary-school classes are the type of people she would love to see at the artistic centre. daphne will also serve as an educational space where the younger generations would come to learn and get involved with the works presented.

Beavis is also looking forward to facilitating a variety of activities at the artist centre such as art talks, performances and film screenings. Such activities will attract visitors to come take a look at the artist-centre and engage with the works that will be shown at the exhibition space.

“We have great plans, we are very excited about getting into the space, and having people come see our gallery and visit with us — whether or not we must wear a mask!”

Beavis and her team want to “encourage artists to become a part of [their] community. [They’re] hoping in the future to be able to create a curatorial internship so that people can learn to propose, organize, and curate exhibitions.”

As daphne already exists, the founders have created a fundraiser to furnish the exhibition space. Their fundraising goal is $20,000. So far, they have raised $9,200, demonstrating that people are supportive of the project. The team hopes to reach their goal soon and looks forward to welcoming visitors to their exhibition space.

Donations can be made to this website.


A conversation with Kent Monkman

The artist discusses his exhibition and Canadian history

Thousands of people from around the globe tuned in to a Zoom session held on Sept. 26, 2020 to listen to Kent Monkman speak. The interdisciplinary Cree artist is known for his provocative works, which explore themes of sexuality and colonization as a means of retelling contemporary Indigenous experiences.

Presented in partnership with Indspire and the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) at the University of British Columbia, the live discussion covered topics surrounding Indigeneous and Canadian art, reconciliation, and Monkman’s exhibition Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience.

Indspire is a national Indigenous charity that invests in the education of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people. By partnering with Indigenous private and public sector stakeholders, they “educate, connect and invest in First Nations, Inuit and Métis people so they will achieve their highest potential.”

The conversation was mediated by Roberta Jamieson, the President and CEO of Indspire — and the first Indigenous woman to earn a law degree in Canada — and Jennifer Kramer, Curator, at the MOA, whose work focuses on First Nations visual culture and with First Nations on the Pacific Northwest coast.

“I never set out, as an artist, to be an educator, but I certainly found myself stepping into that role with [Shame and Prejudice] because the erasure of these colonial policies was so effective that most Canadians are still in the dark,” said Kent Monkman at the virtual conference.

His exhibition, which was on display at the McCord Museum during the spring of 2019, revisits Canadian and Indigenous history through the eyes of Monkman’s gender-fluid alter-ego, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle. His book of the same name guides readers through the history of New France and the dispossession of Indigenous lands through Canadian colonial policies.

Accompanied by historical artefacts, his paintings and installations reinterpret, and make reference to, a multitude of well-known works, artists, and significant objects. Among his references is Caravaggio’s renowned 1604-06 Death of the Virgin, which depicts the Virgin Mary lying on her deathbed.

In Monkman’s version of the piece, titled Death of the Virgin (After Caravaggio), he swaps the Virgin Mary for a First Nations woman. In his 2016 work, The Daddies, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle poses on an iconic Hudson’s Bay blanket, surrounded by Canada’s founding fathers, leaving the viewer to raise questions about Confederation.

“I wanted to touch on very specific chapters of the last 150 years because so much of the art history told on this continent is told from the settler perspective and the art that’s upheld and hung in our colonial institutions, effectively, is an erased version; it’s like a version that omits Indigenous perspective and Indigenous experience,” said Monkman.

“That was what this project really set out to do, was to canonize and to authorize, into this history of the continent, Indigenous experience, both contemporary and historical.”

A Talk with Kent Monkman is available for viewing on Indspire’s YouTube channel here.


Photos courtesy of Chloë Lalonde


Beading as an art form: land activism, cultural history and resurgence

How are Indigenous artists beading today?

Embroidery has always been an important part of Indigenous culture, especially with its prevalence on personal items. Embroidery showcases layered floral patterns, often described as a “relatively narrow spectrum of colours.” It carries an important tradition and representation of artistic freedom for these communities, who have distinct and unique styles even to this day.

Another important medium for Indigenous women is the use of shells, bones or seeds, the earliest form of beadwork. This was used in everyday life and sacred times, using geometrical patterns, showcasing different shapes and ornaments in a variety of colours.

Created with string, white and purple shell beads, wampum belts were the physical representation of treaties and alliances. Wampum symbolizes a living record of events, relations and agreements and could even be used to represent the confirmation of relationships, including marriage proposals. Wampum belts were also used to invite nations and settlers to a meeting. They represented agreements on the behalf of First Peoples and settlers, however settlers chose to disregard the wampum belts as legally-binding.

Following European colonizer contact with First Peoples, the introduction of glass beads through trade between the 15th and 19th centuries allowed for more intricate designs.

These changes led  to the creation and use of floral designs, which date back to the 1800s. Geometric designs also began to take an important place in Indigenous communities, used as decorative elements on clothing and footwear. To completely understand the sudden return of beadwork, the concept of resurgence has to be defined in its entirety. Resurgence represents “the assertion of Indigenous world views that are fluid yet connected to ancestral ways of knowing’’ and “a way of being that is inherently Indigenous at the exclusion of the colonial state, an insertion of Indigenous ways of being into the colonial status quo,”  as stated by a portfolio on Beadwork at Carleton University. 

These designs are honoured and embraced by Indigenous artists today,  across Turtle Island

Concordia-based artist, Skawenatti, works primarily with digital art, but has created a modern day example of a wampum belt, titled Intergalactic Friendship Belt (Xenomorph, Onkwehón:we, Na’vi, Twi’lek, E.T.). Her work focuses primarily on comparing Indigenous and settler relations with alien, futuristic worlds.

Indigenous art and jewelry is often associated with activism. The Birch Trail sells “Land Back” and jingle tin earrings, in addition to their regular collection of traditional Indigenous medicinal herbs contained in resin.

These jingle tins are used in dance and in protest, wearing them makes a statement in support of Indigenous causes. These earrings are sold to raise funds for Wet’suwet’en in flash-bidding sales on Instagram.

 Beading as land activism, cultural history, resurgence and wellness

According to Mohawk artist, Destiny Thomas, beadwork holds a special meaning and is much more than a beautiful form of art to her. “Beads, for me, hold a therapeutic property that I feel could be implemented in today’s therapy,” Thomas said. “It’s culturally relevant to Indigenous peoples. It creates an open and understanding space to discuss topics like personal hardships and identity issues.’’

Thomas was only 19 when she first arrived in Montreal to study Art Education at Concordia University. She’s originally from Akwesasne, New York and was taught beadwork by her mother, who continues to practice today.

“Beadwork allowed me to calm my mind. When I came to Montreal to begin my studies, I felt so very alone and anxious because I had to somehow navigate public transportation in french, finding my way between both campuses, and making all new friends who aren’t from my community.’’ she said.  Thomas no longer wants to keep beadwork to herself and uses it to converse, where offering a safe space to discuss trauma and abuse is possible all while creating something beautiful.

Her goal is to make beadwork completely inclusive, her philosophy being to make jewelry that is for everyday rather than traditional wear.

“In the United States, I know someone who is Indigenous, who would not wear her beaded earrings because she feared being targeted whilst taking public transportation,” she said. “She felt the need to hide. So, when I make beadwork to sell, I want it to be that a person, regardless of gender or ethnicity, is proud to be wearing my products. If they’re Indigenous, I hope they feel comfortable and confident to be wearing beadwork.’’

“I’ve witnessed that Quebec has a discriminatory view on English-only speakers. Of course, this isn’t applied to universities or a few work places,” Thomas noted. Montreal’s art world is accepting but it has its hardships, especially when artists only speak English. The English and French art communities rarely overlap.

When it comes to figures of authority, such as police officers, Thomas admits the conflict she feels within: “I’m already faced with a push-back because there’s a chance that once I reveal my Indigeneity, I will not gain the help I need,’’ said Thomas. She was also referring to experiences from friends of hers where police officers refused to assist them.

Cultural appropriation or appreciation?

“I have had people ask the question ‘I’m non-Indigenous, so is it ok if I wear your products?’ and my response is that this is the opposite of cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is when a non-Indigenous person produces and sells Indigenous products. That’s a no-no.’’ she said. Thomas always lets her customers know it isn’t problematic to be wearing Indigenous products as long as they are made and sold  by Indigenous creators.

In times of crisis, be it in social action, fighting for Indigenous land rights or in social isolation, it is essential to continue to support local artists. Thomas’ online shop showcases gorgeous and extremely colourful circular bead earrings, pins, hide holders (small pouches made out of animal hide) with beaded edges in black, purple, blue, chartreuse and orange on each distinctive design.

For materials, gifts and more visit


Images courtesy of Destiny Thomas @destinythomasdesigns


Happening in and around the White Cube this week…

Happening in and around the White Cube this week… should art history roll over and die? 

During the Art History Graduate Student Association (AHGSA) Symposium, keynote speaker, Lindsay Nixon, spoke about their current work with Indigenous memes and digital futures. They spoke of the ethics of the dissemination of information and Indigenous knowledge and how apps like TikTok allow Indigenous youth to connect with communities across Turtle Island and the world.

But how does this bridge the gap between artist and influencer? Where does art history come into play?

Nixon, who graduated with a Specialization in Women’s Studies from the Simone de Beauvoir Institute, and has completed their MA in Art History at Concordia, places the ethics of making first. The maker, the artist, before the art. Meaning over aesthetics.

While TikTok videos and memes are not always works of art, Indigenous TikToks and memes are a different category. They have the power to create a community and disseminate Indigenous knowledge, objects and experience in a way that was almost impossible earlier in the century. Nixon highlighted artists, like Dana Claxton and Fallon Simard among many others, who work in these ways and pull apart notions of what Indigenous art is.

When speaking about Indigenous art and memes, Nixon opts for “Indigenous digital humanities,” as opposed to contemporary art and art history. And when their talk was finished, a member of the audience raised their hand and said, “Art history should roll over and die.” Nixon, who is also the Indigenous Editor-at-Large for Canadian Art magazine, laughed and agreed.

Art history is definitely rooted in colonial notions of high art, and while craft practices come into the art historical discussion, Indigenous art cannot be looked at in the same way. Art history contends with an institutionalized space that Indigenous digital humanities tries to dismantle.

In Indigenous Art is so Camp, an article in Canadian Art from earlier this fall, Nixon wrote, “Art became my career. Somewhere along the way, I lost the joy of Indigenous art, of art generally, and the initial emotions that drew me to the gallery became conflated with the day-to-day grind of contending with an industry.” Indigenous art, unlike many art historical and anthropological thought, is not limited to a series of symbols and narratives but shares a universal love for camp, and all that is theatrical and truly extra.

These narratives—think of Kent Monkman’s paintings and his alter-ego, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle—surpass western knowledge and notions of art history.

Art history is, like so many other fields of study, one that should “roll over and die.” There’s still a lot of work to do to redefine the art world and beyond.


Regards Croisés: Discussing climate crisis through Indigenous art

The House of Sustainable Development presented Regards Croisés sur la Crise Climatique et les Droits Humains to discuss the climate crisis and human rights through arts and science, alongside Équiterre and Amnesty International Canada Francophone on Nov. 28.

The event was meant to highlight the current climate crisis and its effects on basic human rights, according to Courtney Mullins, Équiterre’s senior communications officer. It focused on Indigenous communities, with the goal of exploring how to work together to cope with climate change.

Mullins explained that vulnerable populations, who are the least responsible for the climate crisis, are usually the most affected. She stressed the importance of creating links between the climate crisis and human rights, as they have the same root problem.

“We really wanted to bring forward that the climate crisis is not just from a scientific perspective but from a cultural perspective as well,” said Mullins.

The event began with a performance by Émilie Monnet, Dayna Danger and Nahka Bertrand, three members of Odaya, a music group composed of Indigenous women formed in 2007. They opened with the song “Seven Grandfathers,” which is performed using vocables, words composed of various sounds or letters without referential meaning, accompanied by traditional drums.

The song describes how many Indigenous people think seven generations ahead and three generations behind, Bertrand explained. “So we situate ourselves in the middle. It’s the thinking forward tool for future generations, to the faces that are coming and their wellbeing.”

Bertrand, who joined Odaya in 2011, talked about the importance of using science to start a dialogue, but also the value of using arts and Indigenous culture to create emotional connections to environmental issues.

The event also presented Hivunikhavut – Notre Futur, a short film by Marianne Falardeau-Côté about her work in Nunavut that bridges local and scientific knowledge in the Kitikmeot Region. The film told the story of a two-day workshop that took place in Nunavut in March of 2018. The workshop combined art, science and storytelling as a means of discussing possible future changes to the region. Participants from Kitikmeot were asked to contribute to scenario building, or creating “plausible stories about the future” on marine development, governance and climate change.

Art has actually been shown as a great way to bring together knowledge systems and bridge different ways of knowing,” said Falardeau-Côté in an interview with The Concordian. “When art is involved it gets more to the emotions and we put away our boundaries and just go into it.”

She explained that it’s important to bring art into these conversations and that, in her experience, people react more to art. “There was something about the paintings that words would never be able to describe,” she said Falardeau-Côté.


Graphic by @sundaeghost


Climate Stories: An Inuk Perspective

Jason Sikoak hosted a workshop at 4th Space on Nov. 20 about Indigenous art and climate justice.

An Inuk Perspective, with Jason Sikoak is an event part of the five-year project led by Elizabeth Fast, an assistant professor in the Department of Applied Human Sciences at Concordia.

The project is called Land as our teacher, and, according to Fast, it occurs “to create land-based programming by and for Indigenous youth to understand the impact [of land-based teachings].” Her initiative has a lot of collaborators, as well as an Indigenous youth advisory council, as she explained.

Land as our teacher is not about raising awareness to non-Indigenous people, but forming a safe space to promote exchanges between communities and connection with nature.

Uniting nations through their roots is a great way to heal Indigenous difficulties, according to Fast. She agreed that Indigenous perspectives have a wholesome and sustainable approach in relation to the environment and community, to name a few.

She also explained how meaningful the project is, especially for Indigenous youth who grew up disconnected from their culture and land for reasons related to colonization.

Fast is driven by offering Indigenous youth land connectedness she did not experience growing up in Manitoba. Understanding the interaction with nature shaped an essential part of Indigenous peoples’ language, culture and identity.

“Some land-based teachings have been lost,” Fast said.

This initiative is purposefully addressing problems within Indigenous communities such as lateral violence, Fast said. It is the result of various assimilation and discrimination policies from the Federal and Provincial governments. According to Indigenous Services Canada, about 30 Indigenous communities across the country still don’t have access to clean water to this date.

Fast acknowledges the lack of education regarding Indigenous knowledge and culture and encourages a focus on Indigenous perspectives. She reiterates her support of The Indigenous Directions Action Plan, a Concordia based initiative, which promotes decolonization and Indigenization of the University with concrete steps.

This workshop was also meant to acknowledge art as a vehicle for social and environmental progress. Its facilitator, Jason Sikoak, who is from Nunatsiavut, an Inuit territory in Newfoundland and Labrador, taught attendees on how to make painted designs on fabric bags. He stressed the importance of making sustainable art with reusable and recycled material.

Sikoak’s perspective on climate change is based on territorial exploration with his father who witnessed the deterioration of the land over the course of his life. The artist started to address environmental issues with his art after his brother got arrested during the Muskrat Falls protest in Manitoba over the Lower Churchill project.

The ongoing hydroelectric project, next to Muskrat Falls in Labrador, requires the flooding of a 41-square-kilometre reservoir for the dam. This reservoir is home to soil and plants which contain mercury, and flooding can release carbon that fuels a process called methylation. According to an article published by the CBC, this phenomenon generates the formation of methylmercury, a neurotoxin linked to health problems. It can poison food supplies, especially fish, which is essential for Inuit survival.

Hydroelectricity is seen as a great green alternative, but it actually devastates Indigenous lands, explained Sikoak. Flooding thousands of hectares of forest destroys the fauna and flora as well as impacting the population who depends upon it.

Sikoak insisted on the importance of everyday behaviour regarding a sustainable lifestyle such as avoiding single-use items, buying local, and using reusable bags.

In addition to individual behaviours, collective initiatives such as environmental art proposed by Greenpeace and climate strikes are creating more exposure. A significant example is the climate march on Sept. 27, with approximately half a million protesters in the streets of Montreal demanding for the government to make environmental changes.

Regardless of an individual’s understanding of the state of the environment, the workshop demonstrated that we are directly affected by climate change and it is only by uniting that we can redefine governance and the way large corporations operate.

“We can’t eat money,” Sikoak said.


Photos by Cecilia Piga


Happening in and around the White Cube this week…

Happening in and around the White Cube this week…

Miss Chief is back! And boy am I thrilled. As someone who grabs every chance they have to write and talk about Kent Monkman, attending the press conference on Feb. 5, for the artist’s new exhibition, Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience at McCord museum, was a dream come true (I was even lucky enough to meet him!).

I’ll just go out and say it, Kent Monkman is the most relevant artist today and possibly ever. The Canadian-born artist of Cree ancestry comments not only on our current sociocultural conditions, but also colonial history and colonial art history.

“I look for places to take inspiration or to challenge art history told by different perspectives,” Monkman explained at the press conference. Both artist and curator of Shame and Prejudice, he works with existing art and artefacts in McCord’s collection to “jostle tradition” and “rep a Cree worldview.”  

A beautifully set table transforms from lavish hors d’oeurves set for colonial officials and polished wood, to splintered bark topped with boney leftovers representing those that were left to scavenge or starve.

Monkman creates masterpieces, both painting and installation/sculptural work, inspired by great classical artists like Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio and Leonardo Da Vinci, as well as more arguably problematic work by Pablo Picasso.


Monkman comments on the art world’s (post)modern minimalist trends by comparing them to Indigenous overpopulation in prisons, which he emphasises as the ultimate minimalist dream, living with the bare necessities (Minimalism, 2017). Monkman even comments on natural history by making sculptural pieces, such as in Nativity Scene (2017), which mimics installations in natural history museums; neanderthals and dinosaurs sharing their space with Native Americans with the same head and body in different scenes, wearing different clothing.

Monkman’s favourite piece, The Scream (2017) depicts the violently emotional removal of Indigenous children from their families.The massive painting is centered on a black wall in a black room, surrounded by beautiful handmade baby carriers, ghost-baby carriers (grey, empty carriers symbolising those that were lost), chalk outlines, and work created by Indigenous children in residential schools. There are no words to describe the sense of dread one feels walking into this room. When asked by a CTV journalist, Monkman agreed that it’s about time the impact of colonialism is brought to the public eye in such a visually discerning way.

Monkman’s work checks all the boxes, and surpassing its aesthetic and artistic qualities is its ability to educate, supported by Indigenous voices and knowledge. Present throughout is the gender fluid, twospirit teacher of the century, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle.

Visit Miss Chief in Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience at the McCord Museum until May 5. Miss Chief’s newly released video performance, Another Feather in Her Bonnet, in collaboration with Jean Paul Gaultier and part of a larger installation, is now a part of the permanent collection at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.


“There is no such thing as ‘not Indigenous enough.’”

Indigenous artists explore their Indigeneity and navigate colonialism in Braiding Our Stories

The Cree are storytellers, like many other First Nations. Their worldview is lived through wahkohtowin (kinship) with the Land. “We continue to tell our stories, as best we can, as beacons for our relations to find their way home, so they too can live miyo pimâtisiwin—the good life,” wrote Melanie Lefebvre for her oral history class, which culminated in her short film, I Will Return.

A Cree/Métis mother, Lefebvre is a Masters student in the individualised graduate program focusing on Indigenous studies and is among the 12 artists navigating Indigeneity in Braiding Our Stories, an exhibition at the VAV gallery. In these many stories, Lefebvre’s short film I Will Return explores aspects of the Plains Cree worldview through her relationship with her daughter, Anne. Narrating Cree teachings, Anne exchanges and shares ideas of kinship relations within time and place.

In conjunction with First Voices Week and the VAV Gallery, the exhibition is curated by a graduate and undergraduate duo, Juliet Mackie (Métis, Cree, Dene and Gwichin from Fort Chipewayan, Alberta) and Alexandra Nordstrom (Plains Cree, Euro-Canadian, member of the Poundmaker Cree Nation, Treaty Six Territory, Saskatchewan). Selected by the Indigenous Art Research Group and guided by Dr. Heather Igloliorte, Mackie and Nordstrom have been braiding artists’ stories since November 2018.

The name, Braiding Our Stories, alludes to the curators’ own experiences navigating their identities and resonates with the experiences of the artists they’ve chosen to support.

Craig Commanda comes to terms with their heritage though playing the guitar, juxtaposing contemporary and traditional Indigenous music.

Dion Smith-Dokkie creates utopic spaces by drawing on cartography, mapmaking and satellite imaging technologies to talk about their perceptions of space and place in northeast British Columbia. As a member of West Moberly First Nations, a community located in the Peace Region of British Columbia, their experience with traditional land use studies forms the basis of these works.

The exhibition welcomes Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples into the space with Creation, a large, six-by-four-foot painting by art education student from Akwesasne, ON, Destiny Thomas. Creation illustrates the Mohawk Creation Story of Turtle Island (North America) and the birth of Mother Earth.

After Sky Woman landed on Turtle Island, she gave birth to a daughter. She was warned to never walk West, but she ignored her mother. The daughter walked West and saw a man figure. Due to shock, she fainted. When she woke, she had two arrows resting in an ‘X’ on her belly and was pregnant with twins. While in the womb, these twins would argue. When it came time to giving birth, the Right-twin was born the proper way, while the Left-twin was born through his mothers armpit, killing her. Sky Woman became the Grandmother to the twins and raised them herself. Together, they buried the daughter and from her soil came corn, beans and squash, these are known as the Three Sisters. From her heart, grew tobacco and from her feet, grew strawberries. Along with her burial, came the daughters name, Mother Earth. With time, the brothers would create humans and other beings. They were never in agreement, so when one created something good, the other would spite his creation. Predator and prey, sickness and medicine, night and day… This is recognized as the perfect balance of good and evil.
(Text by Destiny Thomas)

While painting, Thomas thought of how the universe has come to be. “Everyone has their own interpretations: aliens, god, some superior being,” she revealed. “I tried to pry away from the Creation Story that I was constantly told as a child. But as I thought about it, it became the Mohawk connection or interpretation to all creation stories.”

Next to it is To My Dearest Friend, a much smaller beaded work dedicated to Thomas’s childhood friend, who passed away in 2018. In making this piece, Thomas found herself needing to take many breaks. “When doing beadwork, how you’re feeling shows […] If you’re tense and angry, the work will be tight and wavy. If you’re happy. the work will be slightly loose. If you’re content, the work almost always comes out perfectly,” explained the artist, “while beading the flowers, you can tell where the happy, sad, and content moments were in my work.”

To My Dearest Friend is meant to be looked at closely and from different angles—the artist’s process is parallel to that of art therapy. With fluid and controlled movements, she makes herself aware of her breathing throughout the entire process. The bead work allowed Thomas to grieve and come to terms with how she was feeling. To My Dearest Friend became the perfect vessel to symbolise the grieving process.

Mackie, Nordstrom, Lefebvre, Thomas, and all the artists exhibiting in Braiding Our Stories have one thing in common; they are Indigenous artists. To some, this may bring visions of “traditional” Indigenous ways of making, beading, basketry, braiding sweetgrass… but Indigenous Art is more than that; Indigenous Art, which is capitalized to express the significance of the genre, doesn’t have to look traditional. “Indigenous Art means that it was made by Indigenous people,” explained Mackie. “There is no such thing as ‘not Indigenous enough.’”

First Voices Week is celebrating its fifth edition with a week’s worth of lectures, workshops, panels and discussions. Visit their Facebook event page for more information.

Braiding Our Stories will be open at the VAV Gallery until Feb. 15, Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

For more information on how to be a true Indigenous ally, read the toolkit created by Dakota Swiftwolfe and Leilani Shaw of the Montreal Urban Aboriginal Community Strategy Network.   


From the big screen to our streets

Montreal honours Abenaki filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin in new mural

While walking along Lincoln Ave., one will notice a recent addition to the street’s regular brick exteriors. Unlike St-Laurent Blvd. and the Plateau, street art rarely graces this avenue.

However, on Nov. 4, award-winning filmmaker and artist Meky Ottawa began painting over a brick wall on the corner of Lincoln and Atwater Avenues as a way to pay homage to Indigenous icon Alanis Obomsawin. In collaboration with MU MTL and inaugurated by the Conseil des arts de Montréal, the mural is a touching gesture to the Abenaki artist and esteemed documentary filmmaker.

Ottawa is a Manawan native, from the Atikamekw community and has been making films from the early age of 13. Now in her mid-twenties, Ottawa has recently participated in an installation with two other Indigenous artists at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

MU MTL aims to rejuvenate Montreal neighbourhoods using art, transforming the city into an open air “MUseum.”
Co-founders Elizabeth-Ann Doyle and Emmanuelle Hébert came together to showcase urban art’s ability to transform, or ‘ripen’ a city’s artistic culture.

The new mural on Lincoln depicts Obomsawin in a red dress, sporting her hair in braids and holding a traditional Abenaki drum. According to Abenaki legend, the spirit of the drum is the heartbeat of Mother Earth, inducing harmony by accompanying the voices of the people.

Obomsawin’s portrait is framed against a beautiful teal background. Olive branches float above her head, and forming a halo.

Although Obomsawin’s figure is the focal point of the piece, it is the children below her that catch the viewer’s eye. Holding hands in single file, they are inside what seem to be musical soundwaves. It is as if Obomsawin’s drumming is dictating the children’s direction, seemingly guiding them forward.

Obomsawin is a renowned singer, writer and storyteller, performing for humanitarian causes in Canada, the United States and Europe. She has greatly impacted Indigenous communities by spending almost 40 years directing documentaries at the National Film Board (NFB) with strong social content. The icon has worked on over 30 films documenting the discrimination and injustice her people face in Canada.

The 1977 film, Mother of Many Children, examines the central role of women in Indigenous cultures and was screened during POP Montreal this past September. The film is available online via the NFB database. Kanesatake: 270 years of resistance (1993) examines the land dispute between the Mohawk people of Kanesatake and the municipality of Oka, known as the Oka Crisis. The film is still used as an educational tool in many of Concordia’s classrooms.

According to the NFB, Obomsawin’s main concern is education, “because that’s where you develop yourself, where you learn to hate, or to love.”


Happening in and around the White Cube this week…

Happening in and around the White Cube this week…

Inuit Women in the Arts

Part of McGill University’s eighth annual Indigenous Awareness Week, Inuit Women in the Arts will feature a panel of distinguished Inuit artists and curators. Heather Igloliorte, the co-curator of Among All These Tundras and professor of art history at Concordia, as well as Niap Saunders, a multidisciplinary artist from Kuujjuaq, Que., will be among the women participating in the panel discussion.

When: Sept. 25 at 5 p.m.
Where: McGill Indigenous studies program building, 3643 Peel St.
Admission is free. RSVP with Eventbrite.

Words Before All Else: Oral Histories in the Digital Age

Art centres Vidéographe and Dazibao come together to present multiple screenings that explore traditional stories and storytelling. According to Vidéographe’s website, “the works in this program make use of experimental forms akin to computer animation.” Words Before All Else will present short, digitally animated films by Skawennati, Mary Kunuk, Zacharias Kunuk, Trevino L. Brings Plenty, Doug Smarch Jr., Elizabeth LaPensée, Zack Khalil and Adam Shingwak Khalil.

When: Sept. 27 at 7 p.m.
Where: Dazibao, 5455 Gaspé Ave., Suite 105
Admission is free. Space is limited.

Art POP Montreal

Art POP curators Terrance Richard and Hugo Dufour have organized a collection of more than 70 artists for this year’s festival, with works that explore identity, heritage, narrative, class and culture. Taking over the entire third floor of the Rialto Complex with solo and group shows, the Art POP studio will showcase live dance performances and an independent writers reading event. Richard and Dufour have also organized satellite exhibitions all over the city. The locations include Espace POP, OBORO, Centre Clark, Ellephant and Pied Carré.

When: Vernissages, workshops and other events will take place until Sept. 30.
Admission to all Art POP exhibitions is free.

Alexander Calder: Radical Inventor

Calder has worked in a variety of disciplines—from painting and drawing to jewelry and sculpture. Organized by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 150 of Calder’s most innovative artworks have been brought together in a new exhibition. Born into a family of artists, Calder had a passion for invention. He designed several large sculptures, such as Trois Disques, which was created for Expo 67 in Parc Jean-Drapeau. The museum will be hosting several lectures, film screenings, workshops and family activities associated with Radical Inventor until the end of October.

When: Now until Feb. 24
Where: MMFA, Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion, Level 2
Admission is $15 for people under 30.

Graphic by Ana Bilokin.

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