Group Exhibition Materialized

  • Joi T. Arcand
  • Catherine Blackburn
  • Celeste Pedri-Spade
  • Nadya Kwandibens
    Catherine Blackburn, Scooped, (detail), 2017 (photos, 24kt-gold-plated beads, seed beads, thread, 12x9cm). Courtesy of the artist.
Catherine Blackburn, Scooped, (detail), 2017 (photos, 24kt-gold-plated beads, seed beads, thread, 12x9cm). Courtesy of the artist.

Combining portrait photography with elements from adornment arts, textiles, sculpture, and customary Indigenous art practices, Materialized examines themes of intergenerational memory, familial narrative, and decolonization through the work of artists Joi T. Arcand, Celeste Pedri-Spade, Catherine Blackburn, and Nadya Kwandibens. By using their craft to reclaim portraiture as a form of self-expression and self-determination, each artist resists the colonial metanarratives contained in settler-made images of Indigenous subjects.

Catherine Blackburn, ee, 2017 (pins, gel photo transfer, seed beads, 24kt gold plated beads; 6×9 in.), from the series Our Mother(s) Tongue. Courtesy of the artist and the Collection of Regina Public Library

Portraiture aims to capture the essence of a subject, to act as a visual representation of a subject’s personality, and to tell a story to an audience about a subject’s purported identity. The art form also has a long and problematic history of Indigenous subjects being objectified, exploited, and misrepresented by white settler photographers for commercial and anthropological purposes, informing racist representations and acting as a tool for colonial nation-building. In response, contemporary Indigenous artists working with photography turn the tables, taking back their own images and cultures, using the powerful medium to resist oppressive instrumentalization.

The artists in Materialized build on this process of reclamation and resistance. They achieve this by putting photographs through a time-intensive and meticulous process of materialization, transforming them by hand using beadwork, dioramic tableau, and sewing. This materialization acts as a form of reflexivity—a kind of visual autoethnographic research that examines Indigenous self-identity, exploring the intersections between the artists’ personal experiences and those of their families, their communities, and beyond.

 Lac des Mille Lacs First Nation artist Celeste Pedri-Spade, whose artistic and scholarly contributions served as a source of inspiration for this exhibition, states:

“…materializing the photographs led me towards not only the recovery of memory, but also a discovery of a new understanding or appreciation for the memory itself. This illustrates, how, dialectically, we both produce and are products of historical processes…As an Anishinabekwe artist/researcher I have often longed for this tactile dimension of history, inspired by the words of my kitchianishinabeg that would often discuss how we wear our teachings, that we live our knowledge…”[1]

Celeste Pedri-Spade, Ogichidaakwewag, 2016 (cotton, bridal veil, batting, LED light insert; 123.5 x 152 cm). Courtesy of the artist and the Indigenous Art Collection, Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada. Photo: Rebecca Bose

Pedri-Spade’s works in the exhibition include Ogjchidaakwewag (2016), a quilt featuring three family members photographed in the late 1960s, with the appliqued outlines of their bodies evoking the topography of Pedri-Spade’s home territory. In Anishinabe culture, blankets are given to honour individuals through ceremony, and with this work Pedri-Spade honours and acknowledges how the women in her family continue to protect the waters now known as Kashabowie Lake in northwestern Ontario. Other works by Pedri-Spade include regalia and ceremonial items, such as the jingle dress Roses (2014), and Shirley’s Tobacco Bag (2014)—a brain-tanned moose-hide bag featuring a beaded portrait of her grandmother.

English River First Nation artist Catherine Blackburn’s works me, us, ee, and tti are part of a visceral series titled Our Mother(s) Tongue (2017), in which syllabics and floral motifs are beaded onto close-up photographs of the tongues of Blackburn’s family members. These evocative works speak directly to the loss of Indigenous languages as a result of genocidal assimilation policies such as Canada’s Indian Residential School System, as well as the vital importance of Indigenous language revitalization as an act of decolonization. The Indigenous body itself—represented here by the tongue—becomes a sovereign site of resurgence and power. Familial knowledge and the power of intergenerational healing are embodied in the series, as Blackburn’s own mother helped with the Dene translation.

In Joi T. Arcand’s Through That Which Is Scene (2014), the Muskeg Lake First Nation artist investigates the influence of photographs on memory and how familial narratives engage with the construction of self. Arcand makes use of cutouts from family photographs, toys, doll furniture, and other ephemera to create whimsical dioramas. Accompanying the dioramas are two vintage stereoscopic View-Masters, each loaded with reels of narrative tableaus constructed by the artist, made for visitors to engage with.

As a satellite component of this indoor exhibition, Animakee Wa Zhing #37 First Nation Artist—and recently appointed Toronto Photo Laureate—Nadya Kwandibens’ photograph Shiibaashka’igan: Honouring the Sacred Jingle Dress (2019) is presented on a public billboard located outside Artscape Youngplace at 180 Shaw Street. Read more here about how it further explores the themes of the exhibition.

Nadya Kwandibens, Shiibaashka’igan: Honouring the Sacred Jingle Dress, 2019. Courtesy of the artist

Through their multifaceted practices, the artists in Materialized individually and collectively raise and unpack crucial questions about photography: How can photographs—both archival and contemporary—support personal and familial histories? And how can these same photographs act as the basis for social, political, and conceptual explorations of Indigenous identity when they are put through a process of physical materialization?

[1] Celeste Pedri-Spade, “The day my photographs danced: Materializing photographs of my Anishinabe ancestors,” Visual ethnography, 6(1) (2017): 133–72.

Curated by Ariel Smith.
Smith is an award winning nĂŞhiyaw, white settler and Jewish filmmaker, video artist, writer, and cultural worker. Having created independent media art since 2001, she has shown at festivals and galleries across Canada and Internationally. Ariel has worked as a programmer/curator for such organizations as galerie saw gallery, The Ottawa International Animation Festival, Reel Canada, imagineNATIVE, Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre, and the National Gallery of Canada. Ariel works as the Artistic and Managing Director of Native Women in the Arts and is in the process of completing an MFA in Film Production from York University.

Co-presented by Native Women in the Arts and Critical Distance Centre for Curators, in partnership with CONTACT

Joi T. Arcand is an artist from Muskeg Lake Cree Nation, Saskatchewan, Treaty 6 Territory, currently residing in Ottawa, Ontario. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with Great Distinction from the University of Saskatchewan in 2005. In 2018, Arcand was shortlisted for the prestigious Sobey Art Award. Her practice includes photography, digital collage, and graphic design and is characterized by a visionary and subversive reclamation and indigenization of public spaces through the use of Cree language and syllabics. In her recent work with neon signs, Arcand connects to her complex relationship with the language by making it highly visible to the general public. Her work has been included in numerous group exhibitions, including Àbadakone at the National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa, ON) and INSURGENCE/RESURGENCE at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.

Catherine Blackburn was born in Patuanak, Saskatchewan, of Dene and European ancestry and is a member of the English River First Nation. She is a multidisciplinary artist and jeweller, whose common themes address Canada’s colonial past that are often prompted by personal narratives. Her work merges mixed media and fashion to create dialogue between historical art forms and new interpretations of them. Utilizing beadwork and other historical adornment techniques, she creates space to explore Indigenous sovereignty, decolonization and representation. Her work has exhibited in notable national and international exhibitions and fashion runways.

Celeste Pedri-Spade is an Anishinabekwe artist from Lac Des Mille Lacs First Nation. She identifies as a “mark maker” who works primarily with textiles and photography. Celeste holds a PhD in Visual Anthropology and is an Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at McGill University where she is also the inaugural Associate Provost of Indigenous Initiatives. Her art practice is committed to honouring the women in her life and exploring the tactile and sensuous meanings made possible through creative entanglements with our material environments.

Nadya Kwandibens is Anishinaabe from the Animakee Wa Zhing #37 First Nation in northwestern Ontario. She is an award winning photographer and a Canon Ambassador. In 2008 she founded Red Works Photography. Red Works is a dynamic photography company empowering contemporary Indigenous lifestyles and cultures through photographic essays, features, and portraits. Red Works specializes in natural light portraiture and headshots sessions plus event and concert photography. Nadya’s photography has been exhibited in group and solo shows across Canada and the United States. She currently resides in TkarĂłn:to on Wendat, Haudenosaunee, Mississauga of the Credit River & Dish With One Spoon Territory. In 2023, she was declared the City of Toronto’s third Photo Laureate.