Leah Decter

Mammo’wiiang to make change

Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba
co-curated with Jaimie Isaac

Artists: Adrian Stimson, Cheryl L’Hirondelle, Michael Farnan, Ayumi Goto, Paul Zacharias and Scott Benesiinaabandan, and Peter Morin with Debbie Huntinghawk, Barbara Blind, Colleen Granger, and Tyanna Bun, and Shannon Guimond

photo credit:  Kevin Bertram, courtesy of the Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba

Curatorial Essay: Mammo’wiiang to make change (exerpt)

Leah Decer and Jaimie Isaac

Mammo’wiiang is an Anishinaabemowin word meaning gathering. Mammo’wiiang to make change is an exhibition highlighting artworks that address social, cultural, economic and political conditions arising from Canada’s ongoing colonial project. Although persistent national narratives often serve to evade the realities of our colonial past and its contemporary guises, the colonial systems imposed in these territories are firmly embedded in the fabric of Canadian society as we know it today. Undeniably we all live under a ‘dark cloud’[i]of the past that is ubiquitous in the inequitable conditions so often shaping our everyday lives and relations in the present.

Geographically situated in the place now known as Brandon, in Treaty 1[ii]territory, this exhibition brings attention to interrelated histories on this land, disparate experiences of colonial nation-building past and present, and sites of activation and resistance that aspire to non-colonial attitudes in the present and future. As we gather here, we are reminded that Brandon, like much of southern Canada, is predominantly populated by white settlers and their worldviews. Its institutions - a college, university, army base, correctional facilities and former residential school – together with its large agricultural industry, are testament to the colonial logics of Indigenous dispossession and presumptions of European superiority that persist within the beliefs and ways of life that dominate Canadian society.

For over 500 years Indigenous peoples have enacted resistance to the structures and relationships of colonization. Increasingly it is understood that these decolonizing actions undertaken by Indigenous peoples must be met by a commitment for change from non-indigenous people. Artists are among those at the leading edge of such efforts to unpack and confront colonial legacies. As Métis artist, curator and writer David Garneau suggests, “Cultural decolonization is the perpetual struggle to make both Indigenous and settler peoples aware of the complexity of our shared colonial condition, and how this legacy informs every person and institution in these territories.”[iii]  Bringing divergent yet interrelated perspectives into conversation, Mammo’wiiang to make change speaks to a spectrum of decolonizing imperatives mobilized by both Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists.

Mammo’wiiang to make change considers the urgency of working towards these goals, and acknowledges the significance of culturally responsive collaboration in this context. It has evolved from our four-year collaboration co-activating (official denial) trade value in progress, a project that has engaged participants from across the country. This project embodies layered collaborations that demonstrate a commitment to activating cross-cultural dialogue from multiple Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspectives. Functioning amid unbalanced and unequal conditions consequent to colonization, it has been critical for our collaboration to contend with the systemic colonial presence within the land, relations, institutions and government and the resulting effects on socio-political-economic-spiritual domains throughout this space now called Canada. This exhibition’s foundational connection to collaboration, as manifested in long-term relationships, lends itself to an inclusive model and a springboard for dialogue. In our selection we have considered the artists’ individual practices as well as the collaborative practices that tie them together through relationships which, like ours, extend over time and outside the work in this exhibition.

This exhibition alludes to dynamic spaces of unsettlement; spaces of engagement in “the liminal and intellectual borderlands where indigenous and non-indigenous scholars,” and, we would add, artists, “encounter one another, working to remember, redefine, reverse the devastation of the original colonialist encounter.”[iv] The artworks evoke relationships across cultures, generations, histories, species and experience, triggering resonant exchanges between individuals, collectives and the land. The artists envision and enact notions of transformation on multiple planes working with trans-disciplinary proficiency to reveal and interfere with colonial structures and their implications within and outside the borders of the Canadian state.

Through gatherings such as this exhibition, new paradigms for relations in and to this land can begin to be asserted. As Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux artist Dana Claxton maintains “the art community has helped lead the decolonization process in the exhibition space…” which “is the site where the most radical and polemic critiques of Canadian society have taken place.”[viii] The artists in this exhibition reflect this assertion, activating sites of connectivity that resist and exceed colonial constructs. Through considered invocations of the everyday and the uncanny, the works stimulate embodied and intellectual engagement, drawing the viewer in to candid, thought-provoking encounters. Standing together across disciplines and cultures with a sense of both cohesion and tension, they bring awareness to the historical schisms between Canada and Indigenous Peoples within the larger complex political, cultural, social and economic interests of colonialism and imperialism. The works in Mammo’wiiang to make change engender a dynamic provocation for audiences to enter into an ongoing dialogue that confronts colonial realities and considers how everyday lives, actions and futures intersect with these overarching concerns

[i] Reference to the 1871 Treaty 1 signing in which the Indigenous leaders stated that a ‘dark cloud’ had to be removed before they could begin negotiations. Treaty Research Report Treaty One and Treaty Two (1871) www.gc.ca
[ii] Treaty 1, which encompasses much of Manitoba, was signed in 1871, although five Manitoba First Nations are not signatory to any Treaty with Canada (Birdtail Sioux, Sioux Valley, Canupawakpa, Dakota Tipi and Dakota Plains). Under the treaties, the First Peoples who occupied these territories were dispossessed of large areas of land by the Crown in exchange for commitments to secure reserve land, payments, the rights to hunt/fish and other agreements which have been unevenly upheld. 
[iii] David Garneau, 2012 Imaginary spaces of conciliation and reconciliation. In Dewer, J. & Goto, A. (Eds.). (2012). Reconcile this! West Coast Line, 74 (46-2).  28-38.
[iv] Grande, Sandy, 2008 Red Pedagogy: The Un-Methodology. Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies. Thousand Oaks: Sage. Denzin, Norman k., Yvonna S. Lincoln and Linda Tuhiwai Smith, eds. Pp 236.
[v] Andrian Stimson, Artists Statement, 10, 2015
[vi] Cheryl L’Hirondelle, Artist Statement, Wintercount: Can’t Break Us 2015
[vii] Barbara Blind, Artist Statement, because they are all somebody's daughter, 2015
[viii] Dana Claxton, RE:WIND: Transference Tradition Technology: Native New Media Exploring Visual and Digital Culture (Walter Phillips Gallery Editions, 2005) Pp. 17.

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