Saskatoon is Treaty 6 territory, an “agreement between the Crown and the Plain and Wood Cree, Assiniboine, and other Indian tribes at Fort Carlton, Pitt and Battle River. The area agreed upon by the Plain and Wood Cree represents most of the central area of the current provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta”. But to many – like the PMO – their history of Saskatoon excludes this. It’s telling, what’s excised, in our social capital narratives (a fancy term for lies we tell ourselves about where / how we live). People have visited Wanuskewin for thousands of years, and that’s a good thought to hold as you visit the two shows I mention here.
Its a site I should visit more frequently: both in my role as art critic from hell™ and as a citizen of Saskatchewan. The gallery spaces are (in a technical / formal sense) excellent, and with the recent run of curated exhibitions by Felicia Gay, we’re seeing significant artists and works in those spaces.
Selected works from the U of S collection, highlighting Aboriginal artists, occupies the larger gallery space. There’s also a two-person show, Oskun, with Adrian Stimson and Michel Boutin. Stimson’s Buffalo Boy persona has offered truth through humour, and Michel’s work also dances in the political sphere. I first encountered Michel’s work in Great King Rabbit, an amusing and horrifying take on power and propaganda. Being a Métis artist, Boutin is familiar with the exclusiveness of “official narratives”, as much as Stimson.
The works in the collections show have “traditional” artists, like Norval Morriseau, but doesn’t shy from the political. Several works speak to contemporary issues.
Allen Clarke’s gestural painting is titled The Way it is – Isn’t It? It’s the Kelly Block fostered stereotype of the wealthy, crooked Chief who dispenses bits and pieces of his largess to the “serfs” on the rest of the reserve (Block is well known for her focus on legislation re: “accountability” on reserves, whilst being part of a gov’t whose re election slogan could be “RCMP have found no basis to prosecute”). When chatting with the curator, the issue of site – as to whether this piece would be “controversial” if shown on the university campus, came up. Not all sites are as considered as they should be…and the U of S is often in that category, sadly.
Gerald McMaster’s Making a Buck, with sports / business logos, reminds of the recent controversy re: the “Redmen” logo here. The double standard brings to mind a project facilitated by Leanne L’hirondelle, with “contemporary” sports logos like the Atlanta White Devils (with KKK garb), Imperial LandGrabbers, Cleveland Honkies and Vatican City’s Pope ‘n’ Pedophiles. Suddenly not so funny, when your group is being stereotyped, hmmm?
It’s a large show, and that’s a quick taste: but its ironic that in the “collections” show the works dealing with contemporary issues are strongest. This paradox continues, as Boutin and Stimson, in Oskun, are taking a more introspective, backwards – looking view about “here.”
Felicia’s words: “Oskun (Ō skun) is Swampy Cree for bone…. [The] work is located in the realm of the Plains economy and land, whether it is the utilization of the buffalo or agricultural practices…[the artists] utilize the institution of history relaying it to visual signifiers that point out historical narratives and at the same moment connects to our present socio-political reality.”
Oskun explores “bone” from various stances. In Bones #1 by Stimson, they’re the detritus of shameless plunder. Its a warning echoed in his small “nuclear” landscapes, that speak to current ideas of terra nullius, where resource extraction trumps all with no eye to the future. Boutin uses actual bones, in several works that possess an almost religious bent: the blistering satire of Great King Rabbit is muted in these works, but still strong. Convergent Histories is an example of this: you could call them landscape, but the sites aren’t a Group of Seven pristine site ready to be raped – ahem, I mean, realized to a Petro State ideal. It’s a history I cited earlier, where people and their nations have lived here for thousands of years. The crosses and the animals – whether living, like the bird, or existing as markers, like the skull, in Four Crosses for Four Corners, also speaks to an “ownership” of a place, but that privileges neoliberal notions of “property”. Its more indicating a legacy, an older narrative, and that the ancestors are buried here, and their bones are here, to prove this.
Both exhibitions work well in terms of the history that has been written, erased and rewritten, in this contested site of Saskatchewan. The value of the works, to steal Felicia’s words again, “lies within the insistence to be included in the Canadian national imaginary.”