Winnipeg Art Gallery's new exhibit captures, creates concept of identity through lens of Indigenous and Black women and non-binary artists

·3 min read

The Winnipeg Art Gallery’s (WAG) Born in Power exhibit captures and creates the concept of identity through the lens of Indigenous and Black women and non-binary artists.

Artists like Anique Jordan, Meryl McMaster, Ella Cooper, Kali Spritzer, Raven Davis and Hagere Selam Shimby Zegeye-Gebrehiwot use photography, film and text to defy stereotypes, display their self-determination and reclaim their identities.

This exhibition allows artists to define their identity and realities for themselves without the influence of institutional expectations and impositions.

“The material embodies representations of the self and their communities as acts of reclamation and self-determination, in control of their image they express their diverse experiences,” said Jaimie Isaac, WAG Curator of Indigenous and Contemporary Art on Wednesday.

“Black and Indigenous women share a collective history of enduring oppression, discrimination, diaspora, sexual violence, and racial objectification but also care for community, leadership, resiliency, resistance, and survival.”

Born in Power was initially meant to be unveiled in November last year but was postponed because of COVID-19. Instead, the exhibition was made public in February to honour Black History Month and will continue until August 2021.

Upon entering the room, art lovers will be welcomed with an assortment of sounds. For instance, an audio loop will accompany photography by Spritzer called An Exploration of Resilience and Resistance Project.

Subjects in Spritzer’s work speak about the frustrations of Indigenous women and the expectations placed upon them. The photos themselves consist of enlarged tintypes of Indigenous and Black people in the artist’s community.

Nearby, is a short film by Zegeye-Gebrehiwot with a voiceover that shares the relationship she had with their grandmother and how language loss, diaspora, and identity fitted into their connection.

“I think this work is so powerful, and it has a beautiful intergenerational dialogue of Zegeye-Gebrehiwot getting to know her grandmother. She calls her grandmother Yaya/ahat, which is also the title of the film,” said Isaac.

“It is intricate and intimate because as a viewer, you are witnessing a relationship building across generations. People who have seen the film have said it brings out their feelings and makes them reflect on their relationship with their families.”

Other photographs include McMaster’s Ancestral series that is essentially a self-portrait. She had whitened her skin like a canvas and proceeded to project archival pictures by Edward Curtis onto her face to re-appropriate the misrepresentation of her heritage.

People should also look out for a video installation by Davis that touches on the present-day violence as it engages with hate speech by online commenters in response to the national inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit People.

“This week has been particularly hard as we once again, lost another woman to violence. I hope Davis’ video It’s Not Your Fault brings more awareness to people. It is hard to watch it because it is heavy, but it is so relevant today as we are losing women,” said Isaac.

The exhibition will be made available for online audiences by March 31. The virtual programming will also include a panel talk to enable community members to engage with the exhibit’s themes.

Born in Power is now open to the public for in-person viewing. Interested viewers can catch a sneak preview of the exhibit on the WAG’s website.

Nicole Wong is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Nicole Wong, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun