BY DAVID SALITURO
Two new exhibits at Sheridan College’s Hazel McCallion Campus attempt to show Indigenous people in a new way.
The first is a photo exhibit by Jeff Thomas, called Indians on Tour: Exploring Indigenous Experiences. The showcase features toy figures of Indigenous characters against a backdrop of Canadian landmarks. There are figurines standing in front of the CN Tower, Parliament Hill, and the National Gallery in Ottawa.
Thomas’ photos attempt to counter the image of Indigenous people that has been formed by popular media. His figures are portrayed as traditional Natives, but in a landscape that shows them as tourists exploring the world.
“What these pictures are showing is all the stereotypes around Indigenous people,” says Maham Asad of the Creative Commons Gallery where the exhibit is displayed. “The headdress and necklace that they are wearing is not what they actually wore. Movies and entertainment show that.”
Thomas’ photos are a powerful visual representation of the problems faced by Indigenous people in Canada. He wants to draw attention to issues that affect the Indigenous community, including land, the traditional representation of Natives in Western culture, and the impact of increasing urbanization on the community.
According to Thomas’ website, he got the idea for the exhibits from the portrayal of Native characters in “cowboys and Indians” films and games that were a part of popular Western culture. He attempts to counter this depiction by showing Natives instead as tourists, with their own sense of curiosity. Through his photos Thomas wants to remove the stereotype of Indigenous people that has been formed by the media and instead have people consider them as a proud community.
Also at HMC is Nitsiit by artist Couzyn van Heuvelen. This exhibit features a series of sculptures in the form of large fishing lures that are meant to represent traditional Inuit culture. Van Heuvelen takes a part of that culture and integrates it with new technology to bring a fresh look at Indigenous culture.
“I was interested in exploring the rapid prototyping technologies at Sheridan,” van Heuvelen says. “Using newer manufacturing processes to create work that references traditional Inuit technologies will allow these objects to be seen from a fresh modern perspective.”
The two exhibits are effective in making the Sheridan community reflect on Indigenous culture. They present Indigenous characters as more than just stereotypical characters that are often portrayed in popular media. By showing traditional Native characters but against a new backdrop of landmarks, the audience for these exhibits realize there is more to the community than has been shown.
Indians on Tour is open Monday-Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. until April 6 in HMC B-Wing gallery. Every Wednesday at noon there is a lunch in the gallery featuring a guest speaker or a movie screening. Admission is free and open to the public.
Van Heuvelen’s work was chosen as this year’s Temporary Contemporary installation, and will be on display in the Creativity Commons until April 27. There is also a companion showcase at the Art Gallery of Mississauga that will open on Feb. 22.