Visual and Literary ARTISTS/Lovers
Burton Amos, Arthur Renwick, Jani Lauzon, Kathleen Dearhouse, Don Patrick Martin, Julie Flett, Lee Ann Flett, Ryan Rice, Aaron Rice, George Littlechild, Skawennati Tricia Fragnito, Christopher Fragnito, Eric Robertson, Barbara Robertson, Rose Spahan, Jeanette Armstrong, Armand Ruffo, Carole Brazeau, Florene Belmore, Michael Belmore, Mary Ann Barkhouse, Catherine Charles Wherri, George Charles/Gizhgad Nang, Mary Longman, Gary Godfriedson, Louis Ogemah, Jacques St. Goddard, Paul Chaat Smith, Diane Smith, Ruth Cuthand, Thirza Cuthand, Bradlee Laroque, Lori Blondeau, Shelley Niro, Daniel David Moses, Morgan Wood, Nicolette Prince, Kateri Damm
Katia Rock, Jani Lauzon, Cheryl L'Hirondelle, Arthur Renwick
by Audra Simpson
If we were to trust popular and scholarly representations of Native People we would have to conclude that they, unlike any other peoples in the world, are without love. Native people are represented in mechanistic and ultimately loveless terms: as hunter-gatherers and horticulturalists of yesterday and cultural revivalists of today. They are written in popular press as activists (troublemakers), as artists-with-a-mission, as cigarette smugglers. In new age journals as naturally in tune with the earth, in movies of the seventies as shape-changers. They are Indian Princesses, savage squaws, brave hearted men and guerilla warriors. Rarely however, are they in love ( the tragedy of Pocahontas aside), rarely are they contemplating love, acting out of love or simply being, as they are -- their Native selves in love or out of love, in the funk out of the funk. How can this be? We are human beings and human beings act out of love. Romeo loved Juliet, Alexandra the Great loved Roxanne, and Henry VIII had several loves, Thomas Jefferson had some undercover desires and Eleanor Roosevelt, it is said, loved woman and men, Pierre Trudeau loved Margaret...Margaret loved him and others. All of these westerners acted out of love, but what about us? Why the oversight when it comes to our history and our present? What this strange perception of us, which is so inconsistent with our sassy, our funky and our desiring selves?
Some would argue that part of creating our image is part of controlling our lives. Indeed, Natives more than any other people have been represented -- have been written, drawn, and imagined through cultural media and agents that are not their own. As well, Native people in Canada, the United States and other parts of the world have been subjected to the global project of colonisation. Adorned in Hollywood westerns with war bonnets, festooned in ribbons, emerging magically from trees and poised stiffy on butter containers, the Indians of popular culture and advertisement are intent on conveying a message. Are these messages about love? Are these messages about desire, disdain, purpose or any other emotion outside the terrain of consumption? To be Indian was and still is to be represented, often without your consent for the purposes of selling and reselling -- butter, calendars, beer, environmentalism, the "conquering" of the west to the construction of the nation-state of Canada. But to be Indian is to love , to have an ache for someone, something -- for the land, for the past, for the present, for the prose that wouldn't come, the lighter lost in a bar fight or the lover lost to AIDS. To be Indian is to feel these emotions, strong, hard, fast and slow and to be Indian is to look at the images of us on screen, on butter containers and then laugh like hell from the knowledge that this is not us. And to be Indian is to take those images, laugh at them again and then do what we will with them.
Native Love is an exhibition conceived, organized and produced by the NATION TO NATION art collective in Montreal. Each artist (whether visual or textual) was asked to invite another to create paired pieces on the theme of Native Love. This exhibition is therefore part of a greater project of traversing boundaries, making friends, making art and creating images that link us together through our work. This is an exhibition that contemplates our experiences, that represents ourselves, our lives and what is important to us. Love is an emotion, a gesture and a contradiction. Love gives structure to our lives and at the same time seems shapeless, empheral and strong. The artists participating in this project recognize the importance of Love, in its many forms to all of us -- they recognize that Love matters to us as Indain people in these moments, in the beautiful present of our lives.
In this exhibition you might find beads, buckskin, even an Iroquois trade brooch and some verse. But in this exhibition these object are used differently. They are conceived, manipulated and arranged to suggest other options, other images...pushing the seams of the envelope that encloses us further and further out. Here you might find the ghost of the Indian Princess liberated at last from her detail on the box of butter for the past century. She is lurking around the pieces, stretching out her arms -- it is tiring to sit arms crossed in front of her for that long! This Indian Princess is feeling good (she gets to stand and walk for a change) , she is different, she is funny, and she is relaxed. She has put on her motorcycle jacket, some red lipstick and took off those cotton candy coloured turkey feathers in her hair. Her eyes are smiling, her lips are pulled up into a coy smirk. Her face belies a cautious sentiment -- she is thinking of Love. Do you recognize her?
She is you.
© Copyright 1995 Audra Simpson