author: bodie robinson | a&c writer
Our A&C writer ‘wakes up’ at the Dunlop
Recently, I was able to visit the Dunlop Art Gallery at the Regina Public Library. There are currently two exhibitions showing at the gallery, both of which deal with “Métis and Indigenous identities.”
The first exhibition was a short video, about five minutes long, of a woman sitting, facing the camera, transforming herself into what looks like a man dressed in nineteenth-century clothes with a large handlebar moustache. The video is accompanied by a voiceover of intermittent commentary from the artist herself. In the closing ten seconds of the video, the woman leans forward and shouts, “Wake up!”
The mystery woman in the video is named Jessie Short. Her video is titled Wake Up! In it, the artist “solemnly sits, facing the camera and transforms herself into Louis Riel—politician, rebel, fugitive, hero, victim, Métis icon—who was executed in 1885 in Regina.” Short, a Métis woman, conceived of the video as an exploration of “her heritage, gender, and the desire to become and embody defining characteristics of another.”
Jessie Short is a curator, writer, and multi-disciplinary artist and emerging filmmaker. Her work is meant to centre around Métis history and visual culture. The “performative act” in the video itself was interesting enough on its own. But the commentary enlightens the viewer as to its profounder purpose: a Métis woman donning the garb of one of her radical ancestors, Louis Riel, who fought against the British settler government, but had lost dearly for his resistance. And the exclamation at the end: Wake up! Wake up from what? To what? And who should be waking up?
The second exhibition I saw was a collection of four low-rider bicycles. The bikes were decorated with animal hides, beads, and medicine wheels. On the back wall of the gallery hall was a giant projection of a Métis man in long, braided hair explaining what the bikes mean to him, as well as snippets of Native school children drawing imaginative and artistic renderings of low rider bicycles.
The video projection on the wall told me that the bikes were the brain-children of a Métis artist, activist and scholar named Dylan Miner. Miner’s exhibition is titled Anishaabensag Blimskowebshkigewag, or Native Kids Ride Bikes. The bikes were produced in collaboration with Regina artists Keith Bird, Katherine Boyer, Stacey Fayant, and Eagleclaw Thom, youth participants and community partners, Regina Public Library Albert Branch, North Central Community Centre, Mother Teresa Middle School, and Kitchener School. The purpose of the exhibition of the bikes is to promote “intergenerational collaboration and exchange, and honours traditional stories, knowledge, and art making techniques, as well urban low-rider culture.” In addition, “the work provokes us to think about alternative Indigenous histories and subjectivities and to consider the bicycle as both a symbol and tool of ecological sustainability, mobility, migration, and self-assertion.”
After viewing the two exhibitions, these two phrases were left stuck in my mind: “Wake up,” and “self-assertion.” These two phrases encouraged me to interpret both of the exhibitions as one whole. First, Jessie Short told the viewer to, “Wake up!” Perhaps her wake up call is for all of us, as more and more Métis and Indigenous peoples are telling their stories about the oppression they’ve suffered under the Canadian settler government. Furthermore, this wake up call comes at a time when more and more people are actually willing to listen to the traumas Canada’s Indigenous peoples have experienced.
The self-assertion of Dylan Miner’s Indigenous- and Métis-themed low rider bikes is twofold. First, the assertion that Métis and Indigenous artistic style can and should be in the public eye, as well as integrated into new forms—the new form of integrating Indigenous art with low rider culture. Secondly, Miner’s exhibition is an assertion of Métis and Indigenous identity: that the first peoples of this land have the right to exist, have the right to practice and express their culture, in spite of a conscious effort by a white supremacist government to take those rights away.