QUEER ARTS FESTIVAL, VANCOUVER June 17 to 29
What does it mean to be Two-spirit today? Curator Adrian Stimson convenes 17 Two-spirit artists, living and dead, to raise more questions than answers.
ADRIAN STIMSON: “Unsettled” has many meanings: not settled, not calm or tranquil, disturbed, likely to vary widely. Generally speaking, it’s a concept that has many possibilities for artists.
The idea for this exhibition stems from my graduate thesis, where I took a survey of Western culture to examine the presence and absence of Two-spirit people in culture and media.
There was hardly any representation in mainstream cinema—except for a glimpse in Little Horse’s character in Little Big Man, and in Big Eden, where Eric Schweig played a Two-spirit person, but was a sidekick lover in a Hollywoodstyle story about a white artist. But in the end they fell in love and walked off into the sunset. So I guess there is a chance for reconciliation.
Two-spirit presence in galleries only started to be felt in the early 1990s. In the present day, we’re seeing a proliferation of Two-spirit artists showing in prominent galleries.
We’ve reached a critical mass now because of the LGBTQ+ movement’s advances toward acceptance and dismantling gender binaries over the past two decades.
Through popular media, the connections between communities have become stronger, so there’s a lot more sharing of histories and ideas.
This combination has brought Two-spirit identity into the limelight, yet we still face discrimination even within our own LGBTQ+ communities. There are still lots of allies: we are currently at the beginning of in-depth discussion, understanding and viewing of Two-spirit art. This exhibition asks what it means to be Twospirit today by looking at individual experiences. We all come from our own communities and we all have our own distinct Indigenous backgrounds and languages, yet in western Canada we’re often reduced to the stereotype of the Prairie Indian. There’s a divide between urban and rural, on-reserve and off-reserve.
There’s still stigma in First Nations communities around Two-spirit people—even though they have been everything from healers to childcare workers and educators in our communities—but homophobia only came with colonization.
Part of the colonial project was to erase Two-spirit identity and existence, so that even First Nations people lost their own histories around Two-spirit people.
The resurgence of Two-spirit identity has forwarded a lot of history that has been deliberately hidden, educating new generations of Indigenous people about Two-spirit experience.
Works will include performance by Vanessa Dion Fletcher, video by Thirza Cuthand and Michelle Sylliboy and painting by George Littlechild and Richard Emery Duck Chief.
Community-building is a priority within traditional Indigenous practices of mentoring and supporting younger generations. It’s crucial to show the diversity of Two-spirit practices and experiences as a continuum of our Indigenous history and being.
Dayna Danger Akinasi Silaapik New Moon 2017