Testimony

Testimony

Testimony

K.C. Adams and Terrance Houle

Curated by Felicia Gay
November 7- December 12, 2014

PAVED Arts & AKA Artist-Run hosted a reception for Stronger Than Stone in conjunction with joint openings for Testimony, Transformation & Warrior Woman: Stop the Silence. 

Testimony is a powerful way in which Indigenous groups can speak to difficult knowledge, taboo or subverted topics, exposing them to air.

When engaging difficult knowledge in curatorial praxis, such as Canada’s missing and murdered Aboriginal women, a topic in which PM Harper has publicly stated- is not high on Canada’s priority list; the primary goal is to allow space for visual testimony and within that, a voice.  As an Aboriginal woman I wanted to speak to this topic in a multi-faceted way. Missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls, goes beyond a societal issue, it is not a civic or provincial issue; it is entrenched in all facets and inner workings of our country and needs to be addressed in unique and powerful ways.

Testimony featured artists K.C Adams and Terrance Houle; their work marked a declarative visual statement concerning difficult knowledge, the focus primarily on the testimonies of Indigenous women. Both artists through the mediums of video and photography narrate experiences, worldview and the reality of how violence against Indigenous women come to be-borne from acts of subtle silences, murmuring and whispering of who Indian women are in Canada, and who defines who they are and what they represent.

K.C skillfully, with the use of her Cyborg series, speaks to current and historical labelling that contributes to the marginalization of Indigenous women. Her Cyborg units wear and name on their T-shirts stereotypes which are lateral types of violent naming that Indigenous women face on a day to day basis. The Cyborgs are not a reality; the “half human and half machine” represent the disconnected reality of Indigenous representation in Canada.  The glamour shots of the Indigenous cyborgs reflect the glamorization of the woman as image and not as an actual person. She is far from reality, beautifully labelled and ready to use. The Canadian government has a long and sordid history rendering Aboriginal people as both a commodity (land and resources) and a strain. No matter how long and hard the media pegs Aboriginal people as a fantastical race, the fact remains that there is always resistance from those who require change to survive. The women who modelled for K.C are primarily highly respected women involved in the arts community or cultural workers. When they don t-shirts with stereotypes beaded on, with sayings like ‘welfare mom,’ ‘F.A.S,’ or ‘dirty little Indian,’ it shows the viewer that no matter who the woman is in her community, or in society, when she wears the label she is not real, she is fantasy. The disconnect between label/stereotype and reality contributes to how Indigenous women are treated by those in power and how they are treated by the West as a whole. It is why for many generations women have disappeared from society, often forever lost, and why there is, more often than not, little justice for women murdered by predators.

Within this exhibition I wanted to have a male perspective in relation to testimony and women. Terrance Houle is a talented artist who works through many mediums, but this particular work went beyond humour or colonial naming via visual testimony. Terrance looks to testimony through a Blackfoot worldview and represents it through the medium of video. For me personally, the work reveals a gentle reverence and respect that Houle has for his matrilineal past and for those females in his clan that come after him. The video performance, Aakaisttsiiksiinaakii Many Snake Woman “The Daughters after me” (40 min) touches on many topics and begins with his Grandmother May Weaselfat who was painted and interpreted in the romantic European style by Reinhold Reiss. From that portrait Terrance begins to ‘talk back’ through the use of performance and video. In Linda Smith’s, Decolonizing Methodologies she says, Testimony is a form in which the voice of a ‘witness’ is accorded space and protection (144). In the gallery space all who enter become witnesses to their testimony, and in doing so there comes an opportunity for change. Along with Houle’s grandmother, his mother Maxine Weaselfat-Sacred Soaring Woman, sister Jolane Houle-Three Suns Woman and daughter Neko-Peace Keeping Woman are all situated to sit as if for a portrait; just as Terrance’s grandmother would have been asked to sit for Reiss. The politics behind creating Indian Portraits in the States and Canada during May Weaselfat’s youth becomes necessarily associated with the colonial trope of the ‘vanishing Indian.’ Many Indian portraits and souvenirs were collected in order to preserve the memory of the “noble savage.”

Viewing Houle’s video brought to mind the artist Edward Curtis, and his famous black and white portraits of Indigenous North Americans. What is not widely known about him is that he had with him a wide array of costumes and props to which he had Indians model for his photographs. During the time period he was creating his work, many Indigenous people adopted westernized clothing and did not wear the traditional type of clothing he had them dress up in. The video alludes to someone faceless directing and propping the women who all model the same blanket. A blanket is a popular signifier of Indian culture and can also allude to other meanings which I will not go into. Each woman represents a different generation in Houle’s family and in video positioned and dressed the same for their portrait. Each woman is representative of a particular generation and time but always depicted in the same costume. They are relegated to a particular point in time from someone in a position of power. The same can be said for Indigenous people as a whole within the media. Once a people are deemed static they cannot exist in the present time. When a society carries the mentality that Indian people are fantasy, they are erased from the present and do not exist. This mentality bodes ill for Indigenous women who need voice in the face of systematic violence. The video testifies to this fact. Their presence in video testifies to their place in reality and becomes witness in a protected space.

~Curatorial Statement by Felicia Gay

Gallery Hours: Tuesday – Friday, Noon – 6 pm; Saturdays Noon – 4pm
PAVED Arts acknowledges the support of our members, volunteers and partners, and of our principal funders: Canada Council for the Arts, Saskatchewan Arts Board, SaskCulture, SaskLotteries, the City of Saskatoon and the National Film Board of Canada.

For more information, contact: David LaRiviere, Artistic Director tel. (306) 652-5502 ext.1 or artistic@pavedarts.ca

Free admission to the public with barrier-free accessibility.

 

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