Highlights by Indigenous artists in The Power Plant’s archives
On the occasion of Arctic/Amazon: Networks of Global Indigeneity, which brings together Indigenous artists and their collaborators from two disparate regions, let’s look at five highlights by Indigenous artists in The Power Plant’s archives.
Couzyn van Heuvelen, Qamutiik, 2019
Ontario-based Inuit artist Couzyn van Heuvelen has a multidisciplinary practice that incorporates Inuit cultural objects. In Arctic/Amazon, The Power Plant presents Qamutiik atop plinths resembling sea ice. The title is the Inuktitut word for a sled designed to travel on snow and ice. Traditionally made with timber and tied in knots with rope, van Heuvelen’s version at The Power Plant is made of soapstone. This material is also commonly used by Inuit artists to carve small figures, examples of which can be found in museums across Canada.
Kent Monkman, Dance to Miss Chief, 2010
In 2012, The Power Plant presented a landmark exhibition organized by the Vancouver Art Gallery, Beat Nation: Art, Hip Hop and Aboriginal Culture, which was curated by Kathleen Ritter and Tania Willard. The exhibition spotlighted a generation of artists who juxtapose urban youth culture with their Indigenous identity to create innovative and unexpected works.
Included in the exhibition was Kent Monkman, an interdisciplinary Cree artist whose alter ego, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, often appears in his works. Dance to Miss Chief uses a music video format to offer a playful critique of the German fascination with North American “Indians.”
Skeena Reece, Raven: On the Colonial Fleet, 2010
The Power Plant’s 2012 exhibition Beat Nation: Art, Hip Hop and Aboriginal Culture also included the work of Skeena Reece, a multidisciplinary artist of Cree, Tsimshian, Gitksan, and Metis descent.
Raven: On the Colonial Fleet is the costume worn during Reece’s performance on opening night, which was then displayed for the remainder of the exhibition. The outfit comprises a corset, ceremonial apron, button blanket, and feathered headdress that borrows elements from Indigenous cultures of the Northwest Coast and Plains.
In the performance, Reece embodied both Hollywood actor Marlon Brando and Sacheen Littlefeather, who famously refused an Oscar at the 1973 Academy Awards on Brando’s behalf. Brando had boycotted the awards to protest the treatment of Indigenous Peoples by the film industry.
Shuvinai Ashoona, The World in Her Eyes, 2011
In 2019, The Power Plant presented a major solo exhibition by Inuit artist Shuvinai Ashoona. Ashoona is based in Kinngait (Cape Dorset), Nunavut, which has an established artistic community for drawing, printmaking, and carving. She is the daughter of sculptor Kiugak Ashoona (1933–2014) and graphic artist Sorosilooto Ashoona, and granddaughter of one of the most celebrated Inuit artists, Pitseolak Ashoona (c. 1904–1983). In 2006, The Power Plant presented an exhibition by her cousin, Annie Pootoogook (1969–2016).
As evidenced in The World in Her Eyes, Ashoona’s work is unique among the artists working in Kinngait. Her surreal drawings feature human-animal hybrid creatures, women birthing worlds, and mystical landscapes inspired by the terrain of her northern home.
Maria Hupfield, Bound with Georgian Bay by Peggy Miller, 2016
In 2017, The Power Plant presented an exhibition by Maria Hupfield, a Toronto-based artist and member of Wasauksing First Nation. The exhibition, The One Who Keeps On Giving, centered on an oil painting of Georgian Bay by the artist’s mother, which inspired a series of performances by Hupfield and her siblings.
The painting itself was exhibited at the gallery next to a small hole where visitors could look out to Lake Ontario, and it was surrounded by objects including a canoe, a snowsuit, a snowmobile helmet, mitts, and boots, many of which were made of grey felt, a material often used in Hupfield’s practice. A larger photograph of the painting bound in grey felt was displayed on a billboard on the lakefront.
In contemporary art, the use of felt recalls German artist Joseph Beuys (1921–1986). However, Beuys and Hupfield use felt differently. Beuys employed this material to produce meaning, whereas Hupfield uses felt because she considers it to be neutral. The meanings of her objects unfold beyond their material limitations.