#Decolonize2014: Boundary-defying exhibitions by indigenous artists help define art in Winnipeg this year


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The most powerful experience I had in a gallery this year wasn't at a typical art show.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/12/2014 (3017 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The most powerful experience I had in a gallery this year wasn’t at a typical art show.

A travelling memorial to missing and murdered indigenous women, Walking With Our Sisters made its Winnipeg stop at Urban Shaman in March. More than 800 carefully arranged pairs of unfinished, hand-embellished moccasins gave concrete presence to an ongoing crisis that many would rather view abstractly — too often with deadly consequences.

A hub of community and volunteer activity, music, ceremony, shared grief and celebration, Walking With Our Sisters, like the broader Idle No More movement, erased divisions between contemporary art, activism and cultural identity, affirming art’s crucial place at the nexus of historical reckoning and forward momentum. That same urgency and disregard for boundaries characterized important travelling surveys and local exhibitions by indigenous artists that helped define and distinguish art in Winnipeg this year.

One example — 7: Professional Native Indian Artists Inc., which ran all summer at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, assembled a tremendous variety of historically and artistically groundbreaking work, examining critical years in the 1970s when the Winnipeg-centred group of painters first solidified their unique, indigenous approaches to modernist innovation.

On view into January at Plug In, Saskatchewan artist Ruth Cuthand’s incendiary 30-year retrospective Back Talk picks up in the 1980s, spanning painting, drawing, video, digital art and Cuthand’s subversive take on traditional beadwork. With piercing humour and blunt force she “talks back” to racist expectations, historical trauma and her own lived experiences. Running concurrently, Minneapolis-based Andrea Carlson’s Eat-All presents a more fractured approach to issues of representation, exploitation and exchange. Her meticulously rendered seascapes, post-apocalyptic vistas strewn with washed-up museum artifacts, are some of the most complex and accomplished drawings I can recall seeing this or any other year.

Looking back, other highlights include projects by Raymond Boisjoly at Platform Centre and Urban Shaman this April. The Vancouver-based artist creatively misused contemporary technology (“lossy,” highly compressed YouTube footage, flatbed scanners and iPad screens) to deconstruct and remake media representations of newly urban indigenous people in the early 1960s.

Installed at Gurevich Fine Art in September, Caroline Monnet’s Amik(waa) reimagined an Algonquin ceremonial lodge as minimalist sculpture, a black Plexiglas prism lashed together with copper wire casting kaleidoscopic reflections of ghostly video amidst an immersive natural soundscape. A beautifully curated group show at Urban, also in September, Memory Keepers showcased similar hybrid approaches. Artists Julie Nagam, Tanya Lukin-Linklater and Ursula Johnson each freely drew from traditional architecture, video installation, contemporary dance, basket-weaving and performance art to create evocative meditations on identity and place.

A few weeks ago, Urban assembled a panel to discuss the legacy of new media artist Ahasiw Maskegon-Iskwew, who died in 2006, and share efforts to preserve early examples of indigenous Net-art. Low-resolution graphics, dead links and antiquated web design mean much of that pioneering work is already showing signs of age, but it boundary-testing futurism and embodiment of democratic ideals couldn’t be more relevant in a contemporary landscape of hashtags and social media.

The talk was an important reminder that powerful experiences of art can take place outside the gallery, but a year’s worth of transformative exhibitions proves it’s still not a bad place to start. I’ll see you in January. #Decolonize2015 #IdleNoMore


Steven Leyden Cochrane is a Winnipeg-based artist, writer and educator.

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