Resilience is the capacity to recover and cope with adversity. Resistance is a struggle against oppression. Christi Belcourt sees plants as metaphors for Métis resilience. Edward Poitras remembered his efforts to determine whether the animal on the 1885 flag was a wolf or a coyote. He chose the resilient coyote. The artists in this exhibition come from six provinces (Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia) and one territory (North West Territories). Their work, from the earliest to the most recent, gives visual testimony to the role of love, family, humour and innovation in creating and recreating a culture founded on the dual power of resilience/resistance. The refusal to forget, give up, go away or disappear.
With the exception of three works by unknown 19th century artists, there are twenty individual artists in this exhibition. Two, Rosalie Laplante Laroque and Marie Grant Breland, created works of extraordinary beauty during a time of great difficulty. Both were married to independent traders and led lives of adventure during the great "buffalo times." Their families preserved their artwork so that today we can celebrate the vibrant colours and highly skilled techniques. They are the master artists, who set the aesthetic standard for the tiny beads KC Adams stitches onto iPhone and iPad skins or Christi Belcourt's painstakingly applied dots of paint. Scott Duffee and the late Adeline Pelletier dit Racette represent artists who keep traditional art forms alive, carrying knowledge forward to the next generation of learning hands.
The selection of contemporary artists has focused on those who exhibit at the national and international level, and those who have played a critical role in the development of the contemporary Canadian Aboriginal art movement. So important a part of the larger Canadian art scene today, it seems impossible that only two decades ago, Aboriginal artists were shut out of galleries and other art institutions. As Jim Logan stated, "We used to yell from outside the walls, but now we are starting to yell in the halls."3 Both he and the late Bob Boyer played key roles in that struggle, largely through the Society of Canadian Artists of Native Ancestry (SCA NA). Four of the artists in this exhibition (Logan, Boyer, Edward Poitras and Rick Rivet) were included in INDIGENA (1992), the first major exhibition of contemporary Aboriginal art. Edward Poitras was the first Aboriginal artist to represent Canada at the world's most prestigious art event, the Venice Biennale, and in 2002 received a Governor General's Award in Media and Visual Arts, our country's highest honour. In 2010 Julie Flett was the first Aboriginal artist to be nominated for a Governor General's Literary Award and Lii Yiboo Nayaapiwak Iii Swer became the first Aboriginal language children's book to be so recognized.
Here, in these gallery spaces, are iconic pieces from this recent art history: Julie Flett's illustrations, a Bob Boyer painted blanket, an Edward Poitras coyote, David Garneau's humorous Cross-Addressinq, Rosalie Favell's playful, I Awoke to find my spirit had returned, in which the artist awakens to reclaim her/our spirit under the watchful eye of Louis Riel. Here are Jason Baerg's abstractions, Stephen Foster's interactive multimedia collaboration with Métis elders, filmmakers Danis Goulet and Caroline Monnet's moving reflections on family, and David Hannan's provocative animal sculptures.
When the exhibition doors opened on Aboriginal Day 2011, a small boy stood in front of Rick Rivet's Zone 3 with outstretched arms and exclaimed, "It's like the artist put all his feelings into it!" A group of boys rushed towards Edward Poitras's coyote, shouting "Cool!" while girls burst into the alphabet song in front of Julie Flett's illustrations. Women looked at Tannis Nielsen's Pain of Being with tears in their eyes. People laughed and marvelled. Their response spoke to the enduring power of art to heal, provoke and communicate - and of the importance of knowing and recognizing these artists and the work they do, and have done for over a century, on our behalf.
- Sherry Farrell Racette, Guest Curator