Ogema: I am Woman

I was quite taken aback by this exhibition. It is an exhibition by a group of indigenous female artists from the First Nations in North America. I had not planned to go to this exhibition initially as I had expected it to have the usual First Nations traditional artwork on display, but because it was literally a stone’s throw away from my targeted viewing I decided to drop in afterwards and was very pleasantly surprised.

The exhibition pays homage to the indigenous women, through all their trials and tribulations of colonial rule. It challenges the viewer to view the First Nations women in a different light by regarding the matriarchal roles in diverse representations. This exhibition is both art and political in nature and deals with the First Nations right to reclaim their rightful position in society.

Participating artists were Maria Hupfield, Jeneen Frei Njootli, Wendy Red Star, Tsēma Tamara Skubovius, Janice Toulouse and Olivia Whetung.

One of the most interesting pieces was a display by Wendy Red Star, a Crow Indian from Montana. Displayed across the width of the gallery wall was a series of posters above a shelf of displayed books. The books were a series written by E. J. Hunter in the 1980’s. There are 24 books in total. Wendy Red Star has created a montage of the original cover and inserted a self-portrait instead of the original “squaw” for each book. The sub-titles on the book come across rather risque or non politically correct in today’s environment and Red Star has played upon the nuances of the sub-text to create her portrait.

Below is the original cover of book # 11. The sub-text reads “She sees what’s coming and blows her way out of trouble!” The sub-title at the bottom of the book reads “Hot-handed Heathen”.

White Squaw 11 - Original cover
White Squaw 11 – Original cover

And this is Red Star’s play on this cover:

White Squaw 11 by Wendy Red Star
White Squaw 11 by Wendy Red Star

By using modern day gestures, often seen on selfies, she is contemporising the literature and drawing attention to the fact that First Nations women are really just like the rest of us.

Possibly the most thought provoking image of the exhibition was a huge life size photograph by Tsēma Tamara Skubovius of a girl sitting naked, hunched over on a rocky beach among washed up discarded, rusty iron rods and bricks.

Re (Naturalize) by Tsēma Tamara Skubovius
Re (Naturalize) by Tsēma Tamara Skubovius

The foetal position of the girl on the beach is symbolic of the much awaited reclamation and return to society by the First Nations people. A symbol of rebirth. The iron rods are representative of the society’s current restrictions and obstacles that stand in the way of this happening. For me the rocks on the beach are indicative of the difficulties that lie ahead in effecting this change.

Lea Toulouse, curator of this exhibition, explains:

I am fed up with the oppression, racism, and victimization of my people and believe it is time to reclaim our position on this land, to celebrate our culture, and to govern our lives.

Reference List

Hunter, E.J. (1986). Hot-handed Heathen (White Squaw) [online]. Amazon.com. Available from: http://www.amazon.com/Hot-Handed-Heathen-White-Squaw-Hunter/dp/0821718827/ref=pd_sim_14_6?ie=UTF8&refRID=0SX7K1VE5J8QZDH95SY5 [Accessed 19 March, 2016]

Red Star, Wendy. White Squaw. [online]. Wendy Red Star. Available from: http://www.wendyredstar.com/white-squaw#/ [Accessed 19 March, 2016]

Toulouse, Lea (2016). Ogema: I am Woman [online]. Like Vancouver. Available from: http://likevancouver.ca/art-ogema-i-am-woman/ [Accessed 19 March, 2016]


Winsor Gallery [online]. Available from: http://www.winsorgallery.com/exhibitDetails.asp?tid=Exhibit_UBC2016&eid=c [Accessed 19 March, 2016]


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