Art History

A Look at Indigenous Art

I recently finished auditing a 12 week course through the University of Alberta called Indigenous Canada and during the last module of the class they mentioned an artist named Daphne Odjig.  I thought as I research her a little more to learn about her and her art, that I would share about what I found on today’s blog.  (I also included more information about the course at the end.)  

Small note as you read, the terms First Nations, Indigenious, Aboriginal, and Native are used interchangeably throughout the post. 

Daphne Odjig

Daphne Odjig (1919-2016) was one of the most influential female First Nations artists in Canadian history.  She was born and raised in Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve on Manitoulin Island, Ontario Canada.  Odjig was Potawatomi (Keepers of the Fire) on her father’s side, descended from the great chief Black Partridge, and English from her mother’s side.  Her mother and father met in England while he was serving in World War I.  She learned art as a child from her grandfather, Jonas Odjig, who was a stone carver and taught her how to paint and draw.  

Artistic Style
Daphne Odjig’s painting style has been described as belonging to the Woodland School of Art, which is a style from First Nations and Native American artists from the Great Lakes Area.  Her paintings differ in that they include themes of womanhood and family, as well as her interest in the works of Picasso and the Cubism and Surrealism Movements is noticeable.  Her work incorporates vibrant colors with bold outlines, curved lines, and overlapped shapes.  

We Walk Together by Daphne Odjig
Ancestors by Daphne Odjig
Untitled by Daphne Odjig

Career & Legacy
In 1972, Daphne Odjig, Jackson Beardy, and Alex Janvier’s work were featured in the exhibit “Treaty Numbers 23, 287 and 1171” at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.  This marked the first time Native artists were featured in a public art gallery in Canada.  

In 1973 she co-founded the Professional Native Indian Artists Incorporation (also known as the Indian Group of Seven) with Jackson Beardy, with members Alex Janvier, Carl Ray, Joseph Sanchez, Eddy Cobiness, and Norval Morrisseau.  Bill Reid was considered an unofficial eighth member.  The group met to discuss the challenges they faced, share criticisms of their art, work to bring modern Indigenous art to the mainstream art world, and encourage youth to pursue artistic careers.  

In 1974, Daphne and her husband Chester Beavon opened the Warehouse Gallery in Winnipeg that provided support to emerging Native artists. 

In 1978, she was presented with an Eagle Feather by Chief Wakageshigon on behalf of the Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve in recognition for her artistic accomplishments.  She was the first woman to be awarded this honor which was typically reserved for men to acknowledge prowess in hunting or war.

During her career, Daphne Odjig exhibited in Canada, the United States, Belgium, Yugoslavia, and Japan.  She had over 30 solo exhibitions and participated in over 50 group exhibitions.  Her contributions to Canadian art and support of other artists earned her an extensive list of accolades – some of which include two Eagle Feathers, the Order of Canada, a Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts, the National Aboriginal Achievement Award, appointment to the Royal Canadian Academy of the Arts, multiple honorary doctorates, and artwork featured on postage stamps.  Many refer to her as the Grandmother of Canadian Indigenous Art. 

Further Learning

Below is some more information on the course I took as well as a panel discussion I watched last week about museum collections.  Click on each of the titles to go to the corresponding link.  If you have any good discussions, books, or resources you’ve come across lately, I’d love to know about them.

Indigenous Canada from the Faculty of Native Studies at University of Alberta 
12 week online course through Coursera that explores Indigenous histories and contemporary issues in Canada.  There’s the option to audit the class for free or pay for the professional certificate/credit.  Even though the class focuses on Canada, it still felt very relevant for someone living in the US and I learned a lot.
Corresponding Weekly Discussions  
Hosted by Dan Levy and faculty members Tracy Bear and Paul Gareau.  Each week they host a special guest and dive deeper into the course content with student questions. 

Indigenous Interventions: Reshaping Archives and Museums Panel Discussion
A panel discussion of Indigenous museum professionals and artists held online last Friday that discussed museum practices in acquiring Native collections, actions that can be taken, and how to move forward. 

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