What, or rather who, is a change maker? This is the central question that lingered for me after visiting Change Makers (2016) at the Art Gallery of Mississauga, which featured works by seven Indigenous artists working across North America and Europe. Given the gallery’s newly-implemented mandate to incorporate “diverse Indigenous perspectives within exhibitions and programming,” the answer seems implied but was not fully articulated.
Curator Mandy Salter’s introductory essay claims that Change Makers draws on several very different yet compellingly complimentary heritages to re-evaluate the relationship between Aboriginal and Western cultures”—a tough order for any exhibition, let alone one occupying less than 1,000 square feet. I question the use of the word “Western,” rather than “colonizer” or “settler.” Mississauga is, after all, an Anishinaabe word, and despite having one of the most culturally diverse populations in the country, less than 0.5 percent of Mississauga’s population is Indigenous.
Installation view of exhibition Change Makers, featuring Outi Pieksi COURTESY ART GALLERY OF MISSISSAUGA, PHOTO TONI HAFKENSCHEID
Upon entering the gallery, I encountered Saulteaux artist Wally Dion’s Icosahedron (2016), a circuit board quilt suspended from the ceiling. This work is as equally fascinating for the intricate patterns created by the retired computer parts as it is for the light-speckled shadow it casts, which resembles the night sky. Scaling down from this galactic vantage point are Amy Malbeuf’s Mealy Mountains (2013) and Three Artists Fly North (2013), topographic maps of Labrador punctuated with strands of glass beads and caribou hair tufts. The artist’s additions disrupt any reading of the maps as static places, reconfiguring them as sites of constant growth and change, unbounded by the political entities that attempt to hold them.
THE GRAVE (2013) by Kinngait-based Nicotye Samayualie is a densely-patterned composition of yellow and red flowers on a bed of pebbles within a precise wooden frame. The grave belongs to the artist’s late father. Samayualie’s drawing is both a tribute to a family member and a poetic meditation on death and renewal.
Equally arresting is Outi Pieski’s Crossing Paths (2014), a striking, immersive installation comprised of hundreds of coloured Sámi tassels tied to bare branches. The undulating lines of the work recall the mountainous Sápmi landscape, while the colours evoke an autumn sky. Pieski’s work is rarely exhibited outside of Europe; it was a special treat for visitors to the exhibition. Unsurprisingly, this was the most Instagrammed work in Change Makers.
Nicotye Samayualie (b. 1983 Kinngait), THE GRAVE, 2013, Coloured pencil and ink 25" x 50" COURTESY FEHELEY FINE ARTS © DORSET FINE ARTS
The exhibition was rounded out by works from Shuvinai Ashoona, Melissa General and Wendy Red Star. Absent from any exhibition material, however, was the notable fact that six of the seven artists are women. Perhaps it is Indigenous women who are the change makers, creating important, provocative work and inspiring reconciliation and resilience.
This is a review from the Summer 2016 issue of the Inuit Art Quarterly.