Canadian Art - - This Issue -

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

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