Wâhkôhtowin: Capturing Relations at the Taché Student Gallery, Winnipeg

By Mariana Muñoz Gomez

A young BIPOC and 2SQTBIPOC community has been rejuvenating the Winnipeg art scene in recent years. Certainly, artist-run centres such as Graffiti Art Programming and Urban Shaman Contemporary Aboriginal Art have intentionally cultivated art education and professional opportunities for artists from those communities since their inceptions. Yet, as I walked into Wâhkôhtowin: Capturing Relations, curated by Annie Beach at the Taché Student Gallery at the University of Manitoba, I could not help being reminded of my experience as an artist of colour going through school in Winnipeg and at this university: I had BIPOC peers, but I never had a BIPOC teacher or professor from grade one through to fourth year of art school. It was refreshing to arrive at the gallery and find a theoretically inquisitive exhibition featuring Indigenous womxn within the university.

The work in Wâhkôhtowin begins with the photograph to subvert historical uses of the camera by colonial forces within Indigenous communities. Beach clarifies the intentions of the exhibition in her curatorial text: “This group exhibition captures the varying ways that the reclamation of the photograph allows sovereignty, and the ways of depicting the tenderness and love for those in our lives today and for those who have passed.” Instead of photographs as Canadian documents of Indigenous people and cultures representing something of the past and less superior, agency is taken by the artists in this exhibition to interrogate what is visible and invisible in photographs, in ways that care for and honour their subjects.

Karrie McEwan, Roots (photo: Annie Beach)

Karrie McEwan’s Roots uses screenprinting as a way to interrupt the photographic process. A photograph of the artist’s parents is printed in red, and the black text “Nimaamaa + My Father,” along with hand-drawn elements on top of their clothing and the landscape behind them, insert visual cues of the artist’s cultural heritage into the image. Similarly, Cassandra Cochrane uses glimmering beadwork in The Pageant to insert Indigeneity into her photographic subjects’ dress and regalia.

Kristin Flattery, We Were Only Children (photo: Annie Beach)

Kristin Flattery also includes beading in her piece We Were Only Children, which takes photographic documentation of children in residential schools and introduces small gestures of love. Beaded flowers spring up at children’s feet and beaded crosses acknowledge the deaths of residential school students, which historically have been ignored and erased by Canada. Mackenzie Anderson takes an innovative approach to screenprinting in Muskego Matriarchs, printing photos of individuals onto birch bark and endearingly beading red cheeks onto each person’s smiling face. Aliya Boubard, Alannah McKay, and Beach also use love to guide their photographic works by embroidering flowers, writing poetry, and playfully photographing their friends, family, and kin.

Wâhkôhtowin acknowledges value in what colonial institutions, such as the art historical canon, the university, and the Canadian government, tell us not to take seriously: care, emotion, and Indigenous people. It does this all while complicating the concept of the photograph as an indexical container of time and truth, and as a colonial anthropological tool.

Wâhkôhtowin: Capturing Relations was on display from February 13 to 16.
Taché Student Gallery: http://umanitoba.ca/schools/art/community/Student_Gallery.html
The gallery is accessible.

Mariana Muñoz Gomez is an emerging artist, writer, and curator. She is a settler of colour based in Winnipeg on Treaty 1 territory. She works collaboratively with a number of artist collectives including Carnation Zine and window winnipeg. She is currently a graduate student in the MA in Cultural Studies program at the University of Winnipeg.