December 18, 2018

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Showing Resilience

MAWA exhibits works from Indigenous women from coast to coast

Collection of the artist</p><p>Meryl McMaster’s Dreamcatcher will be part of Resilience, the largest exhibition of Indigenous female artists in Canada’s history.</p>

Collection of the artist

Meryl McMaster’s Dreamcatcher will be part of Resilience, the largest exhibition of Indigenous female artists in Canada’s history.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/3/2018 (278 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In the recent Oscar-nominated film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Mildred Hayes (played by Frances McDormand) rents three billboards outside her sleepy town to draw attention to her daughter’s unsolved murder and police apathy.

You can’t ignore a billboard.

That idea is at the heart of a big, bold work of art that will be seen across Canada this summer. From June 1 to Aug. 1, Resilience will see existing artwork from 50 Indigenous female artists displayed on 167 billboards from coast to coast.

Curated by Lee-Ann Martin, one of the leading Indigenous curators in the country, the exhibition will feature both emerging and established artists, including KC Adams, Rebecca Belmore and the late Annie Pootoogook.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/3/2018 (278 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In the recent Oscar-nominated film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Mildred Hayes (played by Frances McDormand) rents three billboards outside her sleepy town to draw attention to her daughter’s unsolved murder and police apathy.

You can’t ignore a billboard.

Collection of the artist</p><p>Public places will feature pieces like Jade Nasogaluak Carpenter’s Untitled (That’s A-Mori).</p>

Collection of the artist

Public places will feature pieces like Jade Nasogaluak Carpenter’s Untitled (That’s A-Mori).

That idea is at the heart of a big, bold work of art that will be seen across Canada this summer. From June 1 to Aug. 1, Resilience will see existing artwork from 50 Indigenous female artists displayed on 167 billboards from coast to coast.

Curated by Lee-Ann Martin, one of the leading Indigenous curators in the country, the exhibition will feature both emerging and established artists, including KC Adams, Rebecca Belmore and the late Annie Pootoogook.

Resilience will be the largest exhibition of Indigenous women artists in the country’s history. And producing this massive project is Winnipeg’s own Mentoring Artists for Women’s Art (MAWA) — a small, artist-run centre that has supported women visual artists for more than 30 years.

"It’s the largest project MAWA has ever undertaken," project manager Lindsey Bond says. "It’s catapulting us into a different realm, a national realm. It’s really exciting."

Collection of the artist</p><p>Lianne Charlie’s We Are The Land will be included in MAWA’s project.</p>

Collection of the artist

Lianne Charlie’s We Are The Land will be included in MAWA’s project.

MAWA is proof that you don’t need to be a big organization to do big things — but you do need to dream big. When the Canada Council for the Arts announced its New Chapter program, which would invest $35 million into groundbreaking art projects across the country, MAWA co-executive directors Shawna Dempsey and Dana Kletke decided to apply for funding.

They already had a vision: a national billboard project featuring women artists.

Dempsey called up Martin in Ottawa to gauge her interest in being the curator for such a project.

"I thought about it for, you know, about two seconds and said, ‘Sure, love it,’" Martin says with a laugh.

Martin also had a vision. It was important to her that the project feature Indigenous women artists.

Collection of the artist</p><p>Dana Claxton’s Baby Girlz Gotta Mustang will be among artwork showcased in Resilience. Claxton is one of 50 Indigenous artists to be part of the exhibit.</p>

Collection of the artist

Dana Claxton’s Baby Girlz Gotta Mustang will be among artwork showcased in Resilience. Claxton is one of 50 Indigenous artists to be part of the exhibit.

"I knew and was upset by the fact that Indigenous women artists were not getting the recognition that they should, that they were being excluded and underrepresented," she says.

"So I came up with the idea to do this exhibition with 50 Indigenous women artists, which of course lines itself perfectly with MAWA’s mandate."

Their application was successful. Resilience is one of 200 projects that will be funded through the New Chapter program. It also responds to call-to-action No. 79 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, which encourages collaborations among Indigenous peoples and the arts community to "develop a framework for Canadian heritage and commemoration."

Not unlike the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s current Insurgence/Resurgence exhibition, Martin wanted to challenge people’s preconceived notions about what Indigenous art is, specifically "those tired stereotypes of Indigenous people and our art as only existing in the past, and so on," she says.

"Even in the past 30 or 40 years, exhibitions of contemporary Indigenous art have really favoured male artists," she adds. "And while the men were slowly gaining some recognition as being contemporary artists, very often women were relegated to areas of craft and making stuff for the home." Placing them in a contemporary context, then, is an important piece of representation.

When Martin and MAWA were determining the through-line for the artworks in the exhibition, they wanted something powerful, but positive — a celebration. They arrived at the word "resilience."

"We didn’t want something that spoke only to a colonial history," Dempsey says. "Lee-Ann felt resilience fit the bill because it referred to the strength of Indigenous women throughout the thousands of years of habitation on this continent."

"Normally, resilience is associated with the meaning of being able to recover from and cope with adversity," Martin says. "But in the context of this project, we’re asking people to re-think that narrow definition. In my language, Mohawk, there has always been words that are understood as resilience — being durable, people outlast, defines long-term adaptability of Indigenous cultures, so in the context of this project, I see resilience as being embodied by endurance, adaptability and sovereignty in relation to historical practices and contemporary identities of the Indigenous women artists."

Collection of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada</p><p>Curator Lee-Ann Martin says it was important for a billboard project featuring women artists to focus on Indigenous creators, such as Teresa Marshall, whose piece Mi’kmaq Universe is included in Resilience.</p>

Collection of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada

Curator Lee-Ann Martin says it was important for a billboard project featuring women artists to focus on Indigenous creators, such as Teresa Marshall, whose piece Mi’kmaq Universe is included in Resilience.

That their artwork will be displayed on large-scale billboards all over the country — a country with a shameful track record of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls — also makes this exhibition feel particularly momentous. What has been too often rendered invisible will be made visible.

"Billboards take up such enormous space — in city centres, along highways," Martin says. "The images are really going stand as sentinels and strong advocates for protecting the land and the cultural sovereignty of the artists and the Indigenous rights to that land."

The billboards will also be able to capture the attention and imagination of people who might not be inclined to walk into an art gallery.

"It’s definitely an active response," Bond says. "These are contemporary Indigenous women’s artworks writ large in public spaces. There’s no possibility to ignore them. There they are."

A full website with an interactive map of the billboard’s locations will launch May 1 at resilienceproject.ca.

jen.zoratti@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @JenZoratti

Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti
Columnist

Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

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