A group of female artists who were appalled at the depiction of Indigenous women by a Canadian clothing brand have launched a major exhibition at Vancouver’s Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art aiming to combat stereotypes.
The ReMatriate Collective was born in 2015, after the Canadian fashion designers DSquared unveiled a collection called Dsquaw, described as being inspired by “Canadian Indian tribes.”
“I think we took something negative and turned it into something positive,” said Kelly Edzerza-Bapty, who sent the first e-mail sparking the conversation that would become ReMatriate.
Ms. Edzerza-Bapty said the collective started as a group of around 12 women that quickly became 75. They devised a social-media campaign to “show the complexity and strength of Indigenous women, and to show authentic representation.”
Members of ReMatriate are guest curators of the current exhibition at the Bill Reid Gallery, which explores the roles of Indigenous women, including as child bearers, healers and doulas, and their relationships with water. The exhibition’s title means “water honours us” in the Musqueam language and it features works by nine female Indigenous artists.
“We’re very honoured to collaborate and to have this prestigious a space to show in,” said Tsema Igharas, a guest curator and a member of the Tahltan First Nation in northwestern B.C.
ReMatriate sought out works exploring the connections between water and women through birth, territory and ecology. The results range from tintype (photos on metal) portraits of prominent Musqueam water keeper Audrey Siegl to large, colourful photographs, as well as woodblock prints, paints and gold-plated beads.
Ms. Igharas said she hopes the exhibition will spark conversations about environmental challenges and the relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples.
“Art provides a lens that words cannot. In these very muddy waters, pun intended, politically [and] environmentally, there is a way that art can see through that.”
One piece, entitled tu dzen elin (Cloudy Water), uses beads to critique increased oil tanker traffic in the Salish Sea and the potential for a spill.
“We had a lot of activism come through,” Ms. Igharas said. “It’s important because of climate change and being protectors of the land and water … This is a theme we’ve been exploring since time immemorial.”
The exhibition is also a conversation of sorts between Bill Reid’s own work and those of the nine artists. Ms. Igharas said the collective wanted to showcase female carvers alongside Mr. Reid, who elevated Indigenous art from the northwest coast into the Canadian and international public eye.
The gallery’s curator, Beth Carter, agreed.
“I love the way the women in the collective said, you know, northwest coast has often been viewed through the male lens and there are so many amazing women artists and voices to bring forward,” said Ms. Carter, who works with Indigenous curators each time she seeks out work to show alongside Mr. Reid’s.
The nine artists featured hail from backgrounds including Gitxsan, Sto:lo, Nuu-chah-nulth, Tlingit, Selkirk, Blackfoot, Cree, Mohawk, Nuxalk, Sechelt and Kaska Dena.
The collective has played host to workshops and used digital and visual arts to improve the representation of Indigenous women, elders, gender non-binary and two-spirited people. Ms. Edzerza-Bapty said the growth of the collective from spearheading a popular social-media campaign to showing in galleries is significant.
The collective’s name, ReMatriate, plays with the term repatriation, which refers to the return of Indigenous cultural belongings to their communities.
The water honours us exhibition is at the Bill Reid Gallery until Oct. 2.