By Caroline Stewart
This year marks Canada’s 150th year of Confederation. As Canada’s capital, Ottawa will be celebrating this milestone with countless events and festivals. Unfortunately, many of these celebrations seem to neglect our nation’s indigenous heritage. However, the Ottawa Art Gallery is highlighting the importance of indigenous cultures with When Raven Became Spider, an exhibit on display in the OAG Annex inside City Hall.
Curated by Vancouver-based Gitxaala/British curator, artist and writer Leena Minifie, When Raven Became Spider shows works by Joi T. Arcand (Cree), Sonny Assu (Kwakwa̱ka’wakw), Bear Witness (Cayuga), Shaun Beyale (Navajo), Julianne Beaudin-Herney (Cree/Mik’Maq/Métis), Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers (Blackfoot/Sami), and Jeffery Veregge (S’Klallam).
“However, the prosperous existence of these beings, depicted in the works, render every existing ugly stereotype as false. These superheroes slay by being.”
Their works depict Indigenous men and women as superheroes, using styles reminiscent of iconic characters from the DC and Marvel comic book universes. At first glance, these works inspire a feeling of nostalgia, reminding many of comic book icons from childhood. However, these works are much more than a tribute to cherished moments of youth. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to interview Leena Minifie, the brilliant curator behind this exhibit. Discussing the inspiration for When Raven Became Spider, Minifie explained that while Indigenous women are often victimized – as though in need of saving – in reality they are incredibly strong, powerful and resilient. There are unfortunately as many negative stereotypes about Indigenous men. When Raven Became Spider opposes and demolishes these false notions.
“There are no blatant acknowledgements or nods to ugly societal stereotypes in the works,” explained Minifie during our interview. “However, the prosperous existence of these beings, depicted in the works, render every existing ugly stereotype as false. These superheroes slay by being.” By portraying individuals in a positive and empowering way, these works help invalidate negative stereotypes that have been oppressing Indigenous men and women for centuries.
When Raven Became Spider is currently on display at the OAG Annex in City Hall (110 Laurier Ave). This powerful yet beautiful collection of works is definitely worth the visit. This exhibit will help you realize that superheroes do not only exist as characters in your favourite comic books. They exist all around us, disguised as mothers, fathers, and friends. When Raven Became Spider is a truly empowering exhibit that demonstrates the importance of positive representation.
For information about the exhibit, visit www.ottawaartgallery.ca. When Raven Became Spider runs until February 26, 2017.