A first-time curator on the exhibition, Ogema: I am Woman
Curating an exhibition requires an amalgamation of careers; the organization of an event planner, the enthusiasm of a marketer, the intelligence of a philosopher, and the creativity of an artist. As I grapple with all of these components, the show seems to fall into place. Of course, the exhibit could never materialize without the artists, the stars of the production. The artists in this exhibition are Maria Hupfield, Jeneen Frei Njootli, Tsēma Tamara Skubovius, Wendy Red Star, Janice Toulouse, and Olivia Whetung.
Ogema: I am Woman, is an important event that brings together six incredible Indigenous women artists to challenge preconceived notions of Indigeneity, but with a spin. The women are reclaiming and re-empowering the role of the woman, the First Nations and Native American woman. The title was inspired from my ancestors of Anishinaabe matriarchs and a book titled, I Am Woman, by Lee Maracle, a Cree and Salish author that writes about the raw reality of growing up as a Native woman in a patriarchal society. The exhibition satisfies a component of my Master’s degree in Critical and Curatorial Studies at the University of British Columbia. A fairly new program, this degree evolved from a branch of the Art History, Visual Art and Theory Department. I am really excited to have the opportunity to curate an exhibition that challenges ideas about Indigenous women and the matriarch.
The theme of the Indigenous matriarch was inspired by my five greats grandmother and grandfather Ogemakwe and Chief Shingwaukonse. These figures remind me of the strong legacy Native people hold and the adversities we have overcome. I am fed up with the oppression, racism, and victimization of my people and believe it is time to reclaim our position on this land, to celebrate our culture, and to govern our lives. These words have been said over and over again, but it is today that they are being embodied. The women hold the power, and I believe it is through them that we can heal and lead exemplary lives that benefit all peoples.
Curating this show has been an exciting rollercoaster ride. Beyond settling on a theme, I was challenged to present my research and defend my understanding of Indigenous self-determination to a non-Indigenous audience. These formed the first steps towards curating the show. Following the research and constructive criticism process, I began asking artists to participate and I chose a gallery space to exhibit their work. Questions I asked myself included, “should I go with a non-profit gallery, an artist-run centre, or a commercial gallery?” I selected a commercial space because I have a strong interest in the art market and wanted to learn more about that aspect of the art world, a business I would like to be a part of. I enjoyed the marketing aspect, reaching out to the public, working with a designer on the press materials and conducting radio interviews. Reading countless books and talking with advisors, friends and family has widened my understanding of what it means to be an Indigenous women today, let alone an emergent curator. The learning process will go on to outlive the exhibition. I am hopeful that through this show Indigenous women will continue to celebrate their roles and values in their respective communities, and that I will have contributed in some way towards such positivity.
When: March 9th – 29th, 2016
Where: Winsor Gallery – 258 East 1st Avenue