Indigenous portraits and copper mementoes
Artful Musing

Indigenous portraits and copper mementoes

Black and white photographic portraits of several prominent Ottawa artists and curators have been placed on the walls of Saskatchewan’s main art gallery – the MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina.

Lee-Ann Martin, Curator of Contemporary Aboriginal Art at the Canadian Museum of Civilization

These Ottawans include Barry Ace, Frank Shebageget, Lee-Ann Martin, Ron Noganosh, Linda Grussani, Jeff Thomas, Greg Hill, Bear Witness and Claude Latour. The one common factor is that they all have indigenous origins and were photographed by Ottawa’s Rosalie Favell, who has been assembling since 2008 a collection of portraits of important aboriginal artists and curators from across North America. The purpose is to create a photographic record of the movers and shakers in the indigenous art community of our times.

“This is her community,” Michelle LaVallee, the exhibition curator, says of Favell. “This is the community that helped her to come to terms with her own identity.”

Favell is a Metis originally from Manitoba. As a child, Favell was not aware of her own indigenous heritage. In fact, she has started painting pictures, inspired by family photographs, showing young Rosalie wearing feathered headdresses, not to honour her heritage but to dress up in exotic attire, just as kids will don a Spiderman costume. Four of these paintings have been added to the Regina exhibition of 283 photographs. The show is titled Rosalie Favell: (Re)facing the Camera. More of Favell’s paintings will be exhibited in Ottawa at Cube Gallery Oct. 27-Nov. 22.

Artist Ron Noganosh

The portrait project began in 2008 when Favell found herself part of a welcoming “community” of aboriginal artists all doing residencies at the Banff Centre.. She decided to shoot portraits of these fellow artists, including Alex Janvier, Nadia Myre and Frank Shebageget. For the next seven years, wherever Favell went, she continued to shoot portraits of aboriginal artists, curators and other cultural figures she encountered. The “community” just kept growing.

Some of the portraits, all shot against a plain white background, were exhibited in earlier shows at the Karsh-Masson Gallery in Ottawa in 2012, when Favell won the biennial City of Ottawa Karsh Award, and in 2011 at Urban Shaman in Winnipeg.

This is the first time all 283 portraits have been shown together. Seeing all the portraits at once is a powerful statement. It shows the strength and diversity of North American aboriginal creativity.

Clearly, Favell knows how to make her subjects relax. Most are smiling very naturally. Few strike artificial poses. There’s a definite lack of attitude. The portraits are like interrupted conversations among friends.

“That’s the look I am comfortable with,” says Favell. The point of the project is simply: “Here we are and this is what we look like.”

Favell’s exhibition continues in Regina until Nov. 22.


Sayward Johnson uses knitted copper or brass wire to create his complicated pieces of art like these, the Mementos

A most unusual pair of knitted stockings hangs on the wall of Sayward Johnson’s studio in the Enriched Bread Artist complex on Gladstone Avenue.

The stockings were made from copper wire and then moulded around Johnson’s own feet. It looks like Johnson, or someone else, just stepped out of the socks, which have held their shape, frozen in time, possibly awaiting some Cinderella to try them on and, with a perfect fit, to claim them before running off with Prince Charming.

It is easy to create a narrative for the ghostly stockings. Most of Johnson’s artworks created from knitted copper or brass wire are more complicated; the storylines form only after considerable contemplation.

One wall of the studio is filled with sculptural objects Johnson calls Mementos: “They deal with fragments of memory and how it changes over time.”

The Mementos are roughly circular, hollow objects, fitting nicely in the palm of your hand. They are created by using ordinary knitting needles and spools of thin copper wire as delicate as dental floss. Johnson shapes the Mementos and bathes them in a green patina solution to quicken the rusting process. For the first two weeks or so, the colours and shapes slowly change as the copper starts to deteriorate. Johnson then coats the objects in wax or shellac to stop the evolution. (The copper roofs of the Parliament Buildings go through a similar process in oxidation, changing from an orange-golden colour to green.)

The Mementos were being prepared to for an installation in Johnson’s solo exhibition at Espace Pierre-Debain in Aylmer called Woven Stories and Knitted Mementos. The exhibition runs from Sept. 2 to Oct. 11. This art venue in an old stone court house is normally used for exhibiting fine craft. The quality of the shows is usually high and the exhibiting artists usually established. Johnson, a resident of Chelsea, Que. calls herself an “emerging” artist and is grateful for the opportunity to introduce her unique work to the national capital area.

A loom sits in one corner of Johnson’s studio. It is the same kind of loom used to create textiles. On the loom, Johnson produces squares of woven copper that, after receiving the green patina treatment, are mounted on felt backing and placed on the wall, looking for all the world like highly textured paintings or cloth. Red embroidery or bits of red cloth peeking through the copper wire add dramatic touches to the resulting abstract images.

Now, it is up to the viewer to create a storyline for the artwork.

Sayward Johnson’s exhibition is at Espace Pierre-Debain, 120 rue Principale, in the Aylmer sector of Gatineau. There is no admission charge. For info, phone 819-685-5033.

Some other shows worth catching:

Russell Yuristy: an Ottawa print-maker, painter and sculptor, has a solo show at Cube Gallery from Sept. 1 to Oct. 4.

The Debutantes: A solo show by Ottawa painter Sharon Van Starkenburg at Wall Space Gallery from Sept. 12-Oct. 4.