A number of loosely interrelated threads inspired this reading list. The first is my own research on the topic of Indigenous feminisms as a curatorial resident at grunt gallery, where I am looking at the work of artists whose practices address the intersectional experience of gender and indigeneity. Many of the projects included in this list touch upon this theme and the attendant issues it raises.
The second thread is a conversation on Facebook among a number of participants who were responding to the question “Can we make 2015 or 2016 the year of solo exhibitions by Indigenous women at Vancouver ARCs?” The discussion spanned several months and resulted in a partial (though significant) list of solo and small group exhibitions of Indigenous women artists (or art by Indigenous women) in artist-run centres across Canada, though the primary focus was Vancouver.
Finally, an article was recently published online by Canadian Art that presented information on major institutional solo exhibitions across Canada since 2013 along gender and racial lines (restricted to the binaries of male/female and white/non-white). At the Vancouver Art Gallery, 77 percent of solo exhibitions represented the work of white male artists, while those of non-white female artists were 8 percent (1 percent higher than those of white female artists).  This will be unsurprising to some and does not necessarily reflect the representation of artists along gender and racial lines in artist-run centres in Vancouver. It does, however, point to a set of problematics that involve issues of representation; how this is measured in quantitative or qualitative terms; and whether these are adequate measures or even an adequate language for addressing the ways in which Indigenous women artists are supported by artist-run culture.
Not every solo exhibition by a female Indigenous artist is accompanied by a publication. ARCs are limited in their resources to support both archival and publishing activities, so the current existence of these exhibitions is substantially varied. The advent of digital technologies also certainly affects the accessibility of exhibitions. In light of this, the reading list contains texts that were published to accompany solo or small group exhibitions by Indigenous women as well as texts written by Indigenous women. I want to recognize the work of artists, curators, and writers as each having a significant role in the production and circulation of exhibitions. Solo exhibitions are important to the development of an artist’s career, garnering recognition for and acknowledgement of the value of a person’s artistic practice. I also, however, recognize the value of group and collaborative efforts as Indigenous women (as well as men and GLBTQ2 identities) form support networks with one another, (sometimes) reflecting tribal or communal sensibilities over a Eurocentric emphasis on the individual that extends to the dominance of solo exhibitions by male white artists as highlighted by the demographics in the Canadian Art text.
In light of the above questions and problematics that we will continue to grapple with as cultural workers for many years to come, this list celebrates the achievements of Indigenous women in artist-run centres while recognizing the work still left to be done. We may be underrepresented in the big picture of Contemporary Art but we also lead the way, forging new paths in performance and new media and inserting our bodies into institutions, as well as creating our own. We write about each other’s work; see, for example, Aiyyana Maracle’s essay about the development of Indigenous forms of performance art. We curate each other’s work; Two/Many Tribulations (2004) with Charlene Vickers and Judy Chartrand was Vickers’s first solo exhibition and curator Daina Warren’s first exhibition at grunt gallery. We also make work for those who cannot; see Nikki Maier’s response to the 2006 exhibition Give Her a Face in brunt magazine. We have deep connections with one another; see Peter Morin’s response to Rebecca Belmore’s 2005 exhibition The Capture of Mary March at grunt gallery. We also have allies; “Chinese Boxes,” by Larissa Lai is a diaristic, conversational, and introspective look at three separate solo exhibitions at Or Gallery in 1992 that were brought together as a loose series through the work of three writers. Lai compares her experiences of racism and understanding of spirituality to Marianne Nicolson’s exhibition A House of God, which was part of the Or’s exhibition series. We remember where we came from and how inspiring home can be; Maria Hupfield writes about her auntie’s house as “the finest of contemporary art galleries.”
I am reminded of Linda Nochlin’s seminal 1971 essay “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?,” in which she posits that this question presupposes its answer and any attempt to answer the question on its own terms reinforces its negative implications: that the problem lies with women themselves. She states: “the question’s implications makes you realize to what extent our consciousness of how things are in the world has been conditioned—and also falsified—by the way most important questions are posed,” including the “Woman Problem.”  I would also include the “Indian Problem,” and reformulating Nochlin’s argument along such lines inevitably leads to the history of colonialism and its disproportionate effects on Indigenous women. Many of the exhibitions in this reading list are responses to the conditions created by colonialism and, read collectively, they demand a response on the part of the viewer and the institutions that present the work. How do ARCs challenge or uphold the contemporary power structures that continue the dominance of male white artists? What possibilities are created for de- or anti-colonial discourse and action? Certainly at least some of the answers lie within the words in these texts; it is up to the reader to take note.
- ↩ 1. Alison Cooley, Amy Luo, and Caoimhe Morgan-Feir, “Canada’s Galleries Fall Short: The Not-So Great White North,” Canadian Art, April 21, 2015, http://canadianart.ca/features/2015/04/21/canadas-galleries-fall-short-the-not-so-great-white-north/.
- ↩ 2. Linda Nochlin, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?,” in Woman in Sexist Society: Studies in Power and Powerlessness, ed. Vivian Gornick and Barbara Moran (New York: Basic, 1971).
Lai, Larissa. “Chinese Boxes.” In interruption, edited by Kevin Davies. Vancouver: Or Gallery, 1992. Catalogue published in conjunction with the exhibitions The Conference of the Birds and Baghdad Commemorative Billboard Project 1991–1992, Jamalie Hassan, January 1992; A House of God, Marianne Nicolson, February 1992; and Love Stories, Henry Tsang, March 1992.
Alteen, Glenn. “Liturgy for a New Secular World.” In Ablakela. Vancouver: grunt gallery and Western Front, 1999. Part of LIVE, A CD-ROM/audio CD based on Dana Claxton’s performance project Ablakela, presented in Vancouver, 1999.
Medicine, Dr. Beatrice. “Lakota Views of ‘Art’ and Artistic Expression.” In Ablakela. Vancouver: grunt gallery and Western Front, 1999. Part of LIVE, A CD-ROM/audio CD based on Dana Claxton’s performance project Ablakela, presented in Vancouver, 1999.
Maracle, Aiyyana. “Performance Art & The Native Artist: an rEvolutionary Mix?” In Live at the End of the Century: Aspects of Performance Art in Vancouver, edited by Brice Canyon, 98–107. Vancouver: grunt gallery, 2000.
Vickers, Charlene, Judy Chartrand, and Daina Warners. Two/Many Tribulations. Vancouver: grunt gallery. Catalogue published in conjunction with the exhibition of the same name, September 9–October 2, 2004.
Foster, Stephen. “Converge.” In Dominique Rey: Selling Venus / Cherie Stocken: Converge. Kelowna: Alternator Centre for Contemporary Art, 2007. Pamphlet published in conjunction with the exhibition of the same name, January 13–March 3, 2007.
Hupfield Maria. “Aboriginal Art Practice from Quillboxes and Kitchens to Totem Poles.” In Access All Areas: Conversations of Engaged Arts, edited by Tania Willard, 84–90. Vancouver: grunt gallery, 2008.