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RYERSON IMAGE CENTRE

GHOST DANCE: ACTIVISM. RESISTANCE. ART.
September 18 – December 15, 2013
Guest Curated by Steve Loft
Main Gallery, University Gallery, Salah J. Bachir New Media Wall

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On January 1, 1889, Jack Wilson (or Wovoka), a young Paiute man, had a vision during an eclipse of the sun. […] Revealed to Wilson was a place where his ancestors were once again engaged in their favourite pastimes, where wild game and abundant food were restored to the lands. […] He interpreted the vision as the coming of a new age, one where Native and non-Native people would (finally) live in peace. This was the birth of the Ghost Dance. [...] It was, quite possibly, the first pan-Indian movement in the United States.[1]

This exhibition is not meant to be a comprehensive history of activism in Indigenous art. It is part of an ongoing journey.

Colonialism has been the cause of the suffering, oppression and violence perpetuated against Indigenous people in Canada and many other countries, for centuries. But attributing the rise of resistance, activism and the art associated with it to colonialism itself, is disingenuous. It is the interactions of people which manifest the destructive ideologies inherent in colonialism.  The events caused by these interactions change people and their societies. Indigenous art is not predicated on “colonialism”, but on the events caused by it.

As a curator and art historian I would posit that Aboriginal art is innately political. It is the culmination of lived experiences, from pre-contact customary societies through the colonial enterprise. It is tied up in histories that include both pre- and post-contact epistemologies, narratives empowered by continuity, inextricably inter-linked; and it is the assertion of cultural autonomy and sovereignty.

The artists in this exhibition - most, but not all, Aboriginal - have, and continue to engage in a particular activism, which I would characterize as “articulate resistance”, a social engagement specific to the history of colonization and continued racism.

The work of Indigenous artists needs to be understood through the clarifying lens of sovereignty and self-determination, not just in terms of assimilation, colonization and identity politics […] Sovereignty is the border that shifts Indigenous experience from victimized stance to a strategic one.[2]

Ghost Dance examines the role of the artist as activist, as chronicler and as provocateur in the ongoing struggle for Indigenous rights and self-empowerment.

Force, no matter how concealed, begets resistance. (Lakota saying)


Steve Loft
Guest Curator
National Visiting Trudeau Fellow
 

[1] Candice Hopkins, "Can Beauty Be A Call to Action", in Close Encounters: The Next 500 Years, ed. Sherry Farrell Racette (Plug In Editions: Winnipeg, 2011), 65.
[2] Jolene Rickard, “Sovereignty: A Line in the Sand,” Aperture 139 (Spring 1995): 51.

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ARTISTS: Vernon Ah Kee, Sonny Assu, Scott Benesiinaabandan, Dana Claxton, Cheryl L’Hirondelle, Alan Michelson, Theo Sims, Skawennati and Jackson 2bears.

We are also pleased to present a blog to accompany Ghost Dance: Activism. Resistance. Art. The blog provides an online forum for you to contribute knowledge or memories of the individuals and places captured in the 99 photographs from the Black Star Collection. Displayed on the Salah J. Bachir New Media Wall, these photographs are visible from the glass colonnade along Gould Street during off-gallery hours. For more information, please download the full list of images and accompanying catalogue information or join the conversation online.

This exhibition is made possible through the generous support of the Trudeau Foundation, the Ontario Cultural Attractions Fund, the Ontario Arts Council, the Canada Council for the Arts, the Toronto Arts Council, and the Paul J. Ruhnke Memorial Fund.

Ghost Dance sponsors
Ghost Dance: Activism. Resistance. Art.

Image caption: Michael Abramson, Untitled (American Indian Movement: Lakota Indians), Wounded Knee, South Dakota, USA, 1973, gelatin silver print.  Reproduction from the Black Star Collection at Ryerson University. Courtesy the Ryerson Image Centre. BS.2005.285357 / 187-546

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