Indigenous representation through street art

Reflecting on the place of visual art in the Montreal streetscape

Wherever you go on the island of Tiohtià:ke (Montreal), you will find street art. Regardless of the borough or neighbourhood, you are bound to stumble upon a sculptural installation, mural or the good ol’ reliable mosaics and vitrines in various metro stations. It’s what gives the city its charm and personality.

Other than during the annual MURAL festival, I rarely think about the street art that I see nearly every day. However, upon a recent weekend trip to Tkaronto (Toronto) I began to think about street art a lot more, primarily due to the fact that I did not really see any.

I’ve been told by many friends, and via a thorough Google search, that Toronto has plenty of wonderful street art. And yet, during my three-day venture through numerous districts and boroughs of Toronto, I did not come across a single one. Except, that is, for the renowned 3D TORONTO sign, situated in Nathan Phillips Square.

In 2018, the sign, which is very popular among tourists, was modified to include the Medicine Wheel, an Indigenous symbol that represents various spiritual concepts, including health. The last time I had seen the installation, I was quite young and I did not think much of it, as it was just a large illuminated “Toronto.” This time, I began to reflect on the place of the installation in the city, the inclusion of the Medicine Wheel, and Indigenous representation in the Montreal streetscape.

Other than the Justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women mural, by artists Fanny Aisha, Guko and Monk-e, commissioned by Missing Justice, a solidarity collective working to eliminate violence and discrimination against Indigenous women in Quebec, I have yet to come across street art by Indigenous artists or for Indigenous people. However, there are plenty… just not in areas frequented by most.

So, what does this mean about representation in Montreal? Two large murals of Leonard Cohen are placed at two of the busiest intersections in the city, but Indigenous art work, like Skawennati’s The Celestial Tree, is situated on Pine Ave. and McTavish St., an intersection less frequented.

Shanna Strauss’ 2017 work, Ellen Gabriel & Mary Two Axe Earley, Tiohtià:ke unceded Haudenosaunee territory, pays homage to Mohawk activists Ellen Gabriel and Mary Two Axe Earley. Situated on St-Antoine St. West, in Saint-Henri, the mural features a portrait of the women and was created in solidarity with Indigenous women from Tiohtià:ke, in an effort to resist colonial violence and fight for the recognition of Indigenous rights.

Towards the downtown core of Montreal, at the intersection of Atwater Ave. and Lincoln Ave., one can find Meky Ottawa’s 2018 mural, Hommage à Alanis Obomsawin. As the name states. the work is an homage to Alanis Obomsawin, an activist committed to the defense of First Nations and the rights of Indigenous children. The mural consists of a portrait of Obomsawin, and numerous children holding hands.

Ottawa, an Atikamekw artist, collaborated with MU Montreal, in creating the piece. MU is a project that aims to turn Montreal into an open air museum. Since their conception in 2007, the group has produced over 120 murals.

At the McCord museum, one might stumble upon Inuk artist Jusipi Nalukturuk’s 1936 work, Inukshuk. The sculptural installation, owned by the McCord Museum, is an ode to Indigenous ancestry. The work consists of over 200 stones and was initially assembled in Nunavik.

Even upon further research, I am shocked to discover the plethora of hidden works by Indigenous artists within the Montreal art milieu. Each work offers a piece of history that is not taught in the classrooms and aims to maintain both personal and collective histories that have otherwise been destroyed by colonial violence.

Considering the diversity of artists featured at street art festivals, like MURAL, it is infuriating that Indigenous people are not properly represented on their own lands and in their streets, to say the least. With artists from Colombia, the Netherlands, and settlers being given the opportunity to showcase their works at one of Montreal’s largest art festivals, it certainly raises questions where representation and attribution are concerned.

I am left wondering, does it really count as representation if marginalized artists are offered a place to show their work that is virtually hidden from the majority of the population? It seems to me like yet another inadequate attempt at reconciliation.

Further information about Montreal street art can be found at Art Public Montreal, at, and at MU Montreal at


Graphic by @sundaeghost.


Fashion and Inspiration: A glimpse at designer Jean-Claude Poitras’ creative musings

New exhibition at the McCord Museum guides the viewer through a designer’s creative process

“Behind each and every item there is a story to tell,” said Jean-Claude Poitras as he entered the Jean-Claude Poitras: Fashion and Inspiration exhibition at the McCord Museum, on Oct. 22. 

The exhibition, a product of Poitras’ life and work, brings the viewer inside the mind of the Montreal-born fashion designer and tells the story of his life through his creations.

It features over 140 pieces, accompanied by the designer’s sketches. Rather than being displayed in the chronological order of their concept, the garments are displayed in three sections; Childhood Memories, Muses and the Cinema, and Around the World – each marking a significant source of inspiration in Poitras’ life.

Each of the three rooms features a cubicle, the walls lined with screens wherein the viewer can enter and sit to enjoy a variety of video clips so as to put themselves inside the mind of the designer. This idea is meant to allow the viewer to experience the full fruition of the garments, from a plan to sketches, fabric samples, the photographic process and ultimately, the piece itself.

The simple silhouettes of the clothing contrast against vibrant prints, textures and fabrics; demonstrative of how garments that are reminiscent of the period in which they were created can still have their own personality.

[Through the exhibition] I discovered things that I did not suspect in my fashion,” said Poitras, speaking of inspiration drawn from cinema and attending church as a child; his silhouettes were greatly evocative of old Hollywood glamour and outfits traditionally worn to Sunday mass.

Rich and opulent tones fill this part of the show; every mannequin features items made of sheepskin, deep jewel tones and long coats constructed of heavy fabrics.

A collection of delicate, sheer blouses hang within a transparent box at the center of the room. Their wispiness makes them appear as though they are floating in the wind. Poitras described the garments as resembling kites or mobiles.

La mode, c’est du cinema,” said Poitras, who later described fashion as a passageway; falling hand-in-hand with love, cinema and humour – his main sources of inspiration.

Images of models wearing the clothes accompany the collection. In one series of photos, numerous models are featured wearing the same item in a different way.

“Show me the possibilities that clothes can have,” said Poitras. He added that his aim was to create items that were personalizable, a desire that originated from his boredom of the monotonous repetition of outfits from the 70s.

Orange is the colour of life, we bite into an orange,” said Poitras.

A bright tangerine colour was chosen for the walls of the Around the World section of the exhibition, which displays numerous designs inspired by his travels in Europe, North Africa and Southeast Asia, where he sourced the majority of his fabrics.

Poitras noted the significance of Japanese culture in his work, where he drew inspiration from the search of the essential and purity, as well as a passion for material and texture.

One wall is lined with wide silhouettes featuring interesting details such as asymmetrical sashes. He noted how they share similar qualities to garments produced by renowned designers Issey Miyake, Comme des Garçons, and Yohji Yamamoto, all of which are known for their attention to detail, use of organic lines and suppleness.

Another wall, inspired by his travels in Italy, features structured dresses in pastel tones or the colour of sorbet, as Poitras described them.

While this portion of Jean-Claude Poitras: Fashion and Inspiration is dedicated to Poitras’ travels, it is impossible to neglect the intermingling of inspiration stemming from retro cinema and the silhouettes reminiscent of those from his childhood.

Thanks to you, I am remembered while I live,” said Poitras.

The show, which guides the viewer through Poitras’ life and work through his depiction of a personal and collective history, marks the importance of the designer as a key figure in Montreal’s creative industry.

“Today, I am completely reassured,” said Poitras, speaking of his work as a designer. “This is not my job, it is my life.”

Jean-Claude Poitras: Fashion and Inspiration is on display at the McCord Museum, at 690 Sherbrooke St. W., until Apr. 26. The museum is open Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.


Questioning memory and connection

Hannah Claus’s new exhibition takes inspiration from the McCord Museum’s archives

How do we create relationships with the past? How does history continue to influence our connections in the contemporary world? These are questions that Hannah Claus’s work considers as artist-in-residence at the McCord Museum.

The exhibition contains multidisciplinary works, incorporating beading, sculpture and installation to navigate themes of memory and connection, and the relationships between past and present. The exhibition was created during Claus’s time as an artist in residence at the McCord Museum.

Hannah Claus is a multidisciplinary artist, based in Montreal, and of Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) and English heritage. Her works look at themes of Indigeneity, memory and transformation in its various forms.

Claus was inspired by various sources to create this exhibition. Claus was able to go through the archives of the museum and find artifacts and register books, which influenced the thematic elements present within this exhibition. Other works displayed in the exhibition, in a vitrine, include Indigenous beading works, such as cradle board covers, and register books from the fur trade.


The legibility, or lack thereof, of the fur trade registers’ writing and documentation stood out to Claus. This lack of clear communication over trading not only speaks to the impact of colonialism and how it affected Indigenous communities, but also provides greater insight into the fur trade and its impacts.

Claus explains, in a short video for the museum, that the title of there is a reason for our connection, “evokes the interactions between people when they meet.” The artist shares that she is specifically interested in personal stories and archival documentation, rather than universal recounts and artifacts.

In the centre of the exhibition, a circular plinth is covered in teacups and leaves, all made from beeswax. The cup structure was inspired again by Claus’s journey through the museum’s archives, where she found china and ceramics, made from porcelain. However, for the cups in her exhibition, Claus took molds from her mother’s personal china collection (which Claus herself helped polish when she was younger). There are berries and leaves within the pattern of the cups, which are also made from beeswax. The leaves and berries find significance in that they are often used to make Indigenous teas, which are medicinal and healing.

Claus is well-known for suspended installations, and one such work is also present in there is a reason for our connection. The piece, titled fancy dance shawl for Sky Woman, consists of small, circular pieces, connected by string and hung in a linear formation. At the bottom of each string, there are metallic, reflective strips of material, which create light and reflections across the wall and on the ceiling. The piece also has movement, and gently sways as viewers move around the gallery.

The piece is inspired by a Haudenosaunee creation story, about Sky Woman, which is passed down through oral tradition. The artist describes the work as connecting the earth and sky through thread, while also connecting the past and the present, with this tale of creation, to the contemporary world.

On one of the walls of the exhibition space, four grey blankets are presented. At closer inspection, viewers can see subtle patterns created by copper pins. These patterns are inspired by traditional Indigenous designs on Wampum belts. Wampum refers to tubular beads to create ornamental, ceremonial and commercial pieces. While the copper designs are arguably the focus of this piece, the presence of the blankets should not be overlooked. Through the themes of connection, and settler and Indigenous relations, the blanket holds potent symbolism. As an object that brought disease and death to Indigenous communities at the hands of colonialism, the blanket is not just an object, but also a reminder of the past. However, these can also be viewed as sources for warmth and comfort.

The multiplicity of this materiality shows the varied interpretations present in there is a reason for our connection, while also connecting past and present. The specific relationships between settlers and Indigenous people are prominent throughout the exhibition, but the concept of connection also finds a voice in the relationship between earth and sky, in fancy dance shawl for Sky Woman. Claus finds connection to her family and community through the teacups.

there is a reason for our connection will be showing at the McCord Museum (690 Sherbrooke St. W.) until Aug. 11. Interactive introductions for the exhibition will be taking place on Wednesdays at 6 p.m. in French, and at 8 p.m. in English. Find more on the McCord’s website.


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.


The cities who chose to be photographed

The Biosphere is one of several examples of Montreal’s iconic cityscape featured in the exhibit.  Photo by Mimmo Jodice.

Architects are part of that rare breed of people who make for interesting case studies, simply because of their combination of attributes. The opposition of the artistic and rational views that spur their creativity is enough to fascinate just about anyone.

Go for a walk with an architect and you’ll be amazed by how much more they see than you. Much like artists, they have one key element that escapes the rest of us and that is vision.

Sublime Cities, the newest McCord Museum exhibit showcasing urban photography by internationally renowned photographer Mimmo Jodice, is a testament to that vision.

For those of you who have never heard of him, Jodice has an honorary doctorate in architecture from the University of Naples Federico II and has had close to 30 solo photography exhibits throughout his career. His reputation is built partly on his particular technique, a combination of the use of the gelatin silver process and image digitization. The gelatin silver process is often used to develop black and white photography. Silver salts are applied in gelatin to film or resin-coated paper that is sensitive to light, but can be developed at any time.

Jodice was the first ever photographer to win the Feltrinelli Prize in 2003, a prize awarded by the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei to individuals for their extraordinary achievements in the arts. Last year, he was commissioned by the Louvre in Paris and given “carte blanche” to create an exhibit of his choice for the museum.

As an exhibit, Sublime Cities focuses primarily on photographs that Jodice has taken over the years that “conjure the aspects of aesthetics of the sublime,” according to the museum’s descriptor. The photographs being showcased are from a variety of major cities across the world. Jodice’s obsession with urban areas is immediately obvious from these photographs. All the images convey a profound love of the cities they were taken in.

“I don’t always choose the cities. It’s rather the cities choosing me,” he says, in the interview featured at the exhibit.

Observers will also be quick to notice Jodice’s subtle signature in all his prints. He’s a photographer on a quest to frame the ultimate photograph. We see Paris through camera lenses splattered with rain, New York skyscrapers through the penthouse view of someone’s apartment, and the famous Gondola Docks in Venice crowded and mysterious with fog. In other words, Jodice leaves us with the impression that his photography is something of a quiet contemplation of the cities.

The pictures of Montreal are probably the most fascinating, in the sense that we can’t help but be curious about our own city. In a video interview displayed at the end of the exhibit, Jodice says it himself: Montreal is fascinating for the “ongoing relationship between small European houses and the new architecture, the contemporary architecture.”

The dozen stills of our city include the abandoned Olympic Stadium, as well as mysterious stills of the Biosphere, hiding behind a row of trees, almost like a quiet reminder of what it was during Expo 67. Museum goers will also find unrecognizable pictures of the Old Port, which look so European that one could easily confuse them with Paris or Milan. In fact, that’s probably the only unfortunate critique for this exhibit: the 30 or so prints in the exhibit often seem overwhelming in the open space that was allocated by the museum. One feels as though more guidance or pacing would have assisted the viewer.

Jodice collaborated with a slew of well-known artists, including such greats as Andy Warhol and Sol LeWitt. His allure lies in the fact that he remains current in a day and age where most giants of the art world have already come and gone.

Mimmo Jodice’s Sublime Cities runs at the McCord Museum until March 10, 2013. For more information visit

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