Con­tem­po­rary Na­tive Art Bi­en­nial

La Guilde / Ste­wart Hall Gallery

Inuit Art Quarterly - - CONTENTS - by Çiğ­dem Talu

The fourth edi­tion of the Con­tem­po­rary Na­tive Art Bi­en­nial, co-cu­rated by Niki Lit­tle and Becca Tay­lor, has an en­velop­ing theme: níchi­wamiskwém / nimidet / ma soeur / my sis­ter. Tak­ing sis­ter­hood as an ex­pan­sive fem­i­nist space of gath­er­ing, col­lab­o­ra­tion, con­nec­tion and knowl­edge-shar­ing, Lit­tle and Tay­lor sug­gest this bi­en­nial is a place “with and for our sis­ters” and of “be­long­ing to one and for an­other.” The bi­en­nial con­venes 40 In­dige­nous artists who iden­tify as fe­male, non-bi­nary or two-spirit at four venues in and around Mon­treal, QC—in­clud­ing Ste­wart Hall Gallery, La Guilde, Art Mûr and the Sher­brooke Mu­seum of Fine Arts— to grap­ple with top­ics rang­ing from tra­di­tional sto­ries and im­agery to sear­ing con­tem­po­rary com­men­tary. As a re­sult, the se­lected works by both es­tab­lished ar tists and emerg­ing voices po­si­tion sis­ter­hood as a shared re­spon­si­bil­ity.

At La Guilde many of the works are in­stalled in close prox­im­ity in the cen­tral hall of the gallery, mak­ing the es­cape to their vast in­ner worlds a much-needed re­lief. Open­ing to spa­ces far be­yond the phys­i­cal con­fines of the gallery, the emo­tional spheres within these works ex­tend from and col­lapse into one an­other, cre­at­ing com­plex in­ter­sec­tions where view­ers are challenged to look at and in­habit mul­ti­ple worlds si­mul­ta­ne­ously.

Par­tic­u­larly strik­ing is the ar­range­ment of Caroline Mon­net’s reimag­ined Euro­pean group por­trait Re­nais­sance (2018) next to Na­pachie Pootoo­gook’s (1938–2002) fig­u­ra­tive litho­graph of three women with a nurs­ing child Myth of the Tu­niit (2000). Draw­ing from oral his­to­ries and in­ter­gen­er­a­tional knowl­edge, Pootoo­gook’s litho­graph presents the shared do­mes­tic space of Tu­niit women, the an­cient peo­ple who in­hab­ited the Arc­tic be­fore the mod­ern Inuit. Stones line the perime­ter of their shared home, while the black and white chine-collé pro­duces a back­ground to the sleep­ing women, charged with in­tri­cate tex­tures and ob­jects. In Mon­net’s im­age, First Na­tion and Métis women in Re­nais­sance-style cloth­ing pose in shared strength. Film­maker Alanis Obom­sawin,

OC, GOQ, ac­tress Do­minique Pétin and Mon­net her­self, among oth­ers, oc­cupy the pho­to­graphic space both con­cep­tu­ally and phys­i­cally. In kin­ship, their gaze is set di­rectly upon the cam­era and us, the viewer. Nearby, May­oreak Ashoona, RCA’s litho­graph Clean­ing Fish (1981), de­picts

a quo­tid­ian mo­ment of women work­ing, coloured in yel­lows and soft browns, bridg­ing phys­i­cal space as well as con­tent. Taken as whole, these three works sup­port each other by trans­form­ing a his­tor­i­cal chasm (in­ter­gen­er­a­tional resur­gence, an­cient do­mes­tic rou­tines and tra­di­tional Inuit life) into a shared nar­ra­tive of col­lab­o­ra­tion.

A sec­ond of Ashoona’s prints, Raven’s Do­main (1995), fea­tur­ing an ab­stract im­age of ravens—per­haps the fi­nal stage of a shamanic trans­for­ma­tion—is on view nearby at Ste­wart Hall Gallery. Although this work does not neigh­bour Sorosi­lutu Ashoona’s Her Crown­ing Glory (1993), a shared story con­tin­ues across these en­chant­ing works that can be read as a sep­a­rated dip­tych. Her Crown­ing Glory il­lus­trates the ini­tial mo­ment of a shamanic trans­for­ma­tion—a woman moves through the wind, a large comb in her hand with bil­low­ing, wing-like hair about to take flight—ap­pear­ing as a pro­logue to Raven’s Do­main. The shared em­pha­sis on spir­i­tu­al­ity, stone­cut print­ing and the ethe­real blue-green gra­di­ents fur­ther their for­mal as well as the­matic con­nec­tions. The works take strength from their in­ter­sec­tions, each from a dif­fer­ent time and place but bound by their shared ac­counts, his­to­ries and con­cep­tions of com­mu­nal fem­i­nine be­ing: sis­ter­hood.

The emo­tional spheres within these works ex­tend from and col­lapse into one an­other, cre­at­ing com­plex in­ter­sec­tions where view­ers are challenged to look at and in­habit mul­ti­ple worlds si­mul­ta­ne­ously.

De­spite a strong over­ar­ch­ing cu­ra­to­rial frame­work, there are some pair­ings that are less suc­cess­ful than those out­lined above. In one in­stance at La Guilde, Ningiukulu Teevee’s Myth­i­cal Kud­lik (2017) is placed within the en­closed site of Com­mu­nity Tat­too Ac­tion (2018), an in­stal­la­tion for the Inuit Tat­too Re­vi­tal­iza­tion Project that was used by founder Ho­vak John­ston at the open­ing pre­view to give Inuit vis­i­tors tra­di­tional kakiniit (tat­toos) and tun­niit (fa­cial tat­toos). The can­vas tent func­tions as a sup­port struc­ture for both the bi­en­ni­al­spe­cific event and the larger project it rep­re­sents. When not in use by John­ston, vis­i­tors are in­vited to fetch the il­lus­trated book on the re­vi­tal­iza­tion project and sit on the se­cluded bench within to read it. Teevee’s stone­cut, fea­tur­ing two arms adorned in kakiniit cradling a kud­lik (oil lamp), func­tions as a vis­ual and sym­bolic link to the an­ces­tral ties at the core of John­ston’s project. When ab­sent of the ac­tiv­ity it was con­structed to frame (John­ston tat­too­ing in situ), how­ever, the re­sult­ing “site” (fea­tur­ing a largely empty tent) fails to con­sis­tently ac­ti­vate the Teevee print within, while ar­guably hin­der­ing Myth­i­cal Kud­lik from con­vey­ing its own dis­tinct nar­ra­tives be­yond its re­la­tion to the de­ac­ti­vated site. The shared space of these two works is fur­ther com­pli­cated as a nearby print—ro­tated dur­ing the run of the bi­en­nial—urges vis­i­tors to view it, along­side Teevee and John­ston’s work, as part of a se­ries.

Still, this strat­egy—of re­arrange­ment, lay­er­ing and in­ter­rup­tion—can be read as a de­lib­er­ate cu­ra­to­rial de­ci­sion to pro­vide new in­ter­re­la­tions through op­pos­ing works. The cu­ra­tors’ fem­i­nist method­ol­ogy seeps into the space here by pur­pose­fully dis­rupt­ing the ex­pected lin­ear view­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. If lin­ear­ity is a trait of pa­tri­ar­chal and colo­nial forces—monar­chies, dy­nas­ties and the like—can sis­ter­hood be bet­ter con­ceived as a cos­mos?

In gath­er­ing and col­lab­o­rat­ing, the works trans­form one an­other by adding branches to ex­ist­ing nar­ra­tives, or to those left un­fin­ished, and as a re­sult give agency to the sto­ries each in­ner world con­tains by hold­ing space and mov­ing across it. Taken as a whole, níchi­wamiskwém / nimidet / ma soeur / my sis­ter is ex­pe­ri­enced as a galaxy with no cen­tre, the en­tirety of which is bound by In­dige­nous sis­ter­hood it­self—each work and artist or­bit­ing around an­other. In each venue and through each work the mes­sage echoes: “In care, we carry our sis­ters.”


Caroline Mon­net Re­nais­sance 2018Pho­to­graphic print 101.5 × 152 cm


Na­pachie Pootoo­gook (1938–2002 Kin­ngait) — Myth of the Tu­niit2000Litho­graph and chine-collé 52 × 45 cm

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