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


Àbadakone: Global Indigenous artists at the National Gallery of Canada

Concordia students attend the annual art history bus trip to Ottawa 

On Nov. 9, Concordia students who attended the art history bus trip to Ottawa had the opportunity to visit the new exhibition Àbadakone / Continuous Fire / Feu continuel, currently on at the National Gallery of Canada (NGC).

In an enclosed room off to the side of the main gallery space at the NGC, visitors observe a video of an Indigenous woman washing a white woman in a metal bathtub. Both are silent; all that is heard is the loud sound of dripping water as the Indigenous woman gently washes the white woman’s face, hands, arms, legs and feet with a white cloth. The process is slow and methodical, each movement is careful and tender. It is not until the Indigenous woman begins to cry that visitors are removed from their comfortable state of observation and subsequently inserted into a place of pain and profound suffering.

Touch Me (2013), a video produced by Métis, Cree, Tsimshian and Gitksan artist Skeena Reece speaks of Indigenous trauma and centers on the connecting processes of healing between settlers and Indigenous women. This soothing act with water serves in releasing painful memories and ensues a silent restorative experience shared between the two women.

Reece is one of more than 70 contemporary global Indigenous artists taking part in the exhibition Àbadakone / Continuous Fire / Feu continuel  presently on at the NGC. Àbadakone, Algonquin for “continuous fire,” is the second exhibition to be held at the NGC that features Indigenous artists from around the world; the first being Sakahàn, Algonquin for “to light a fire,” which was held in 2013.

The works cover all mediums, including photography, beadwork, drawing, painting, digital installations and sculpture, and span across almost a dozen rooms. Àbadakone presents the works of Indigenous contemporary artists from countries such as Canada, the United States, Guatemala, South Africa, Finland, and Japan. Some of the artists featured in the exhibition are Leonce Raphael Agbodjélou, Sarah Sense, Barry Ace, Rebecca Belmore, Marja Helander and Dylan Miner.

Àbadakone’s curators have framed the exhibition in accordance with the themes of relatedness, continuity and activation. Wall text in the gallery reads: 

“Relatedness is the view that all things on the earth are our relations. This idea is fundamental to Indigenous worldviews. Relatedness – from the intimate to the global – reminds us of the responsibility inherent in art making to all living things as manifested in what is conventionally understood as the ‘art object.’”

“Continuity is relatedness across generations, histories and our futures. It helps us see that art is not static in time, but is in a constant cycle of change and renewal.”

“Activation is about presence: how an artist animates a space, an object or an idea through performance, video or viewer engagement.”

Other themes the exhibition explores include decolonization, Indigenous sovereignty, land-based knowledge, food insecurity, gender and identity, legacies of trauma and colonization, and practices of healing.

Many of the exhibition’s artists employ methods of ‘re-historicization’ and ‘re-narration’ to subvert and disrupt colonial histories and discourses. One such artist, Will Wilson, aims to dismantle the racist undertones embedded within colonial and ethnographic photography. His ongoing portrait series CIPX (Critical Indigenous Photographic Exchange), that imitate the portraits of colonial photographer Edward S. Curtis, sees a disturbance of the colonial ethnographic gaze and consequently functions in reclaiming Indigenous agency and sovereignty.

During the upcoming months, Àbadakone will feature performance artists such as Peter Morin, as well as host workshops, film screenings, talks and other events.

The annual Ottawa art history bus trip is put on by Concordia’s Ethnocultural Art Histories Group, Concordia’s Undergraduate Journal of Art History, the Art History Graduate Student Association and the Department of Art History. In addition to visiting the National Gallery of Canada, other visits included the Ottawa Art Gallery and Carleton University Art Gallery.

The exhibition is on display at the National Gallery of Canada, at 380 Sussex Dr. in Ottawa, until April 5, 2020. The gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Tuesday to Sunday, and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursdays. 


Photos by Kari Valmestad.

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